Divided or United? As Goes My Team, So Goes My Nation

Below is a letter by a good friend of mine. Please take the time to read.

Jim McKinney retired in 2013 as an Army Foreign Area Officer with over 30 years of service. He most recently served as a Political-Military Advisor to the Commander, US Army Central in the Middle East, Senior Defense Official/Defense Attaché to Slovenia, Deputy Chief of Combating Terrorism for US Pacific Command, and the senior Security Assistance Officer for US Embassies in Albania and the Republic of Georgia among many other special operations, counter-terror, strategic and tactical assignments around the globe.

Divided or United? As goes my team, so goes my nation.

My faith in the San Francisco 49ers organization is shaken after nearly 50 years of unwavering loyalty. The immature, elitist and divisive action of a single individual has soured my love of a team and a sport that I believe so much represents the struggle, the importance and the hope of America.

I never questioned my commitment to the 49ers, or my love of football, until this morning when I read of the disrespect for the National Anthem from an overpaid, underachieving, privileged and divisive professional athlete.

I am saddened so many Americans lack understanding of what the Anthem represents. I am saddened because this protest shows a failure leadership on our team, in our education and in our nation. So many have worked so hard, and sacrificed so much to improve America. We have come so far from the dark days of the past – we have done so much to make the world better.

Some of my best memories are of watching the 49ers. By 5 years old, I was hooked. I learned to respect the individual toughness, work ethic and rewards of putting one’s soul into what they believed. I saw the importance of unity and its effect on a team – division led to loss, unity led to success. As I grew, I began to understand the struggles on the field transcended the game – they were lessons for life.

Other memories in my early years were more frightening. My father, a cop, faced off against race riots, anti-war protests, shootings, and domestic bombings. Vietnam cost our nation self-confidence, our sense of security, our dignity, and sadly many of our bravest for little or nothing in return. The struggle for equality seemed insurmountable, but with good will and for the right reasons things changed. In all cases, the team that worked together best – with the right purpose, unity and willingness to sacrifice – won, and the divided team – without understanding of purpose, and unwilling to sacrifice – lost.

As a young soldier during the ’81 season, I watched the moment that would create legends and a dynasty – “the catch.” For me, the 9ers became America’s team, representing the work ethic, the synergy that makes good into great, and the reward for unity of purpose.

For the next decade, the 49ers made football better, as I believe America made the world better. The west-coast offense, four Super-bowls, the fall of the “Wall”, the collapse of communism – the protection of individual human rights became the standard, not the exception.

My wife and five children have traveled the world supporting my military career, and our team. They struggled overseas with the challenges few Americans will ever understand – move after move, unsafe food supplies, limited medical support, no electrical power or water for days at a time, and the threat of bombings, kidnappings or assassinations. But we served a good purpose, honed our strength, and maintained our unity – and we succeeded. We always kept faith in the 49ers, and in America.

My oldest son, Tristan, went to his first 9er game at two years old. I was assigned to Berlin, Germany. We watched the game in the Olympiastadion, the very stadium where Jesse Owens embarrassed the Third Reich in 1936, 55 years before. Later I taught him the importance of what happened in that nation so many decades before. And I taught him what happened in that city just the year before, as the example of healing divisions, standing for beliefs, and how important America was in the struggle against tyranny. America stood firm in Berlin for 45 years, for the right reasons.

My youngest son, William, plays football. No – he lives football. He works hard with a purpose – to play high school and college ball. His dream is to one day be quarterback for the 49ers. He has the toughness, the work ethic and the sense of purpose to get there. William and I were to meet Tristan and their bother Brennen to see the game Friday night.

Brennen was to fly in from FT Carson, Colorado. He left as a fourth year engineering student to serve our nation as an infantry soldier. He serves honorably for a cause our family believes in – defending this nation and our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

My boys bought tickets for me – a Father’s Day gift. The last 49er game I attended was that 1991 Berlin American Bowl in a newly unified Germany. Friday’s game was the first in 25 years for me, and the first ever for Will and Brennen. We hoped for a good game, and mature leadership on the field, but mostly we just wanted to be together.

Unfortunately, my boys bought the tickets before Brennen received orders for Afghanistan. In a strange twist of fate, Brennen arrived at Camp Dwyer, Helmand province the 26th of August, the day of the game. In a quandary of loyalty and desire, I told my family earlier this week that we couldn’t go without him. I said we would find the money and the time to go when he returned, and go together. That was before the game.

After the game, my faith in my team – and in my America – was fully shaken. I served over 30 years in the defending the rights guaranteed to all US Citizens in our Constitution, and to make the world a better place. Freedom of speech is paramount – and I swore an oath to defend it with my life, if necessary. We are blessed to live in a nation that allows such protest. Like so many, I have lost good friends and close family in this never ending and epic struggle to defend these freedoms. My son this very moment is risking his life to defend the hopes and promises outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But we believe with free speech and expression come the responsibility to think before you act – and you reap what you sow. And we believe in unity, not division. To see the lack of leadership in my team, the lack of faith in our nation, as my son stepped onto the battlefield made me weep.

America is not perfect, but understanding the vision of our founding documents and respecting the laws, the institutions, and the people who sacrifice for them is essential for unity.

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