Nick Suleyman has been a Pittsburgh Steelers fan for some time, but not anymore.
In fact, the Vietnam veteran said he’s done with football altogether given recent events.
“I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and what they did last week at Soldier Field humiliated me,” Suleyman said.
Most of the Pittsburgh Steelers skipped the national anthem and remained in the locker room during their Sept. 24 game against the Chicago Bears.
Alejandro Villanueve, a former Army Ranger, was the only player from the team to stand during the anthem.
“I called my son as soon as I saw what happened and said, ‘You know what, we’re still going to Pittsburgh but we’re going sightseeing,’” Suleyman said. “I’m not going to another football game until this is over.”
Others shared Suleyman’s concerns at a recent tribute Sunday at the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles. State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, organized the event, which attracted about 75 people, after seeing what she called “disrespectful” and “disheartening” protests during the national anthem, which she said has begun to trickle down into student athletics as well.
“I would encourage anyone before they think about kneeling during the national anthem to use this as a teachable moment and think about the names on the wall behind me,” Rezin said. “I hope you’ll stand for them and I hope you’ll stand for this country.”
When did the protests begin and why?
U.S. national anthem protests during football games began when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last year kneeled during the anthem before the team’s preseason game, instead of standing as has been the tradition.
Kaepernick said the decision was made to call attention to issues of racial inequality and police brutality. Others such as Suleyman said the silent protest is disrespectful to the country and its many veterans who have fought to protect American rights such as free speech.
“We stand for the flag because guys have come home underneath that flag in boxes from conflicts throughout history,” Suleyman said. “We’ve seen too many young men from this present conflict come home broken, battered and deceased and it’s not right for the National Football League to take the stance they have.”
Protests during anthem disrespect cost of freedom
Suleyman is commander of the American Veterans Motorcycle Riders Association out of Tinley Park and attended the event with fellow riders.
He also spoke alongside other veterans at the event, which he said was to help reaffirm the reason American citizens should always stand for the national anthem and flag.
Allen Querciagrossa, a 92-year-old World War II veteran from Marseilles, stood in the back behind the crowd. He required help to walk to the stage for a photo, but found the strength to stand for the national anthem.
Many in attendance wore American apparel including Martin Oslanzi and his wife, Mary, who were in attendance with sweatshirts that read “I stand for our national anthem” on the back.
Martin, a Vietnam veteran and Marseilles resident, said he’s not against athletes protesting but said he wishes they wouldn’t do it during the national anthem.
“I feel about these players that if they want to protest, let them do it after,” Martin said. “Let them stay behind and if they stay in the locker room they can come out afterward. It’s really disrespectful to the country itself and for the veterans.”
Tom “Big Daddy” Yarber also assisted in organizing the event and shared the story of his brother who died in Vietnam when he asked a medic to treat a fellow soldier before himself. Yarber reiterated that standing for the anthem is a showing of support for all those who have given their lives to support American freedoms.
Suleyman said the protests do a disservice to the 7,896 names on the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial as well as over a million names “etched in gravestones, walls and hearts of loved ones through history.”
“To disrespect the red, white and blue is a shame,” Suleyman said. “I, for one, will not stand for it.”