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NFL star reveals why he'd still stand for the national anthem

Posted September 14

Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is supporting the national anthem amid continued debate over San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick's decision not to stand during "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Watson, an African American who is outspoken about race, social issues and his Christian faith, recently suffered a torn Achilles tendon that will keep him off the field for the entire season.

But while his injury won't allow him to take part in honoring the national anthem during upcoming games, Watson revealed in a recent Facebook post why he would continue to stand — if he could — in honor of the nation.

"A week ago, in what would prove to be my last pre-game opportunity of this 2016 season, I stood with my right hand over my heart as the anthem played," he wrote. "And if I am fortunate enough to ever be dressed for another game day, I imagine I would be doing the same thing I did in my last. Standing."

Watson said his choice to stand in honor of the anthem isn't because he believes the nation is everything he wants it to be. In fact, he highlighted a number of perceived imperfections in his post.

"Racism still stews, families are fractured, the unborn are trashed, schools are struggling, religious freedom is increasingly under attack, violence pollutes our cities and our suburbs, and there is a growing divide between law enforcement and the community," he wrote.

But despite America's imperfections, Watson said his decision to stand is one that honors those who have come before him.

"I stand for those who were forced to give their lives building the country that confined them to the tobacco fields and indigo plantations," he continued. "I stand because as a child, I saw my father stand. A man who lived the tumultuous transition from 'separate but equal' to the times surrounding the Civil Rights Act."

While Watson said he never forgets the "ills of America," he oft-times finds himself envisioning the country's potential while also remembering the nation's prosperity and giving "thanks to God for the land He has placed me in and the people I love who live in it."

And while he said he'll continue to stand, Watson also affirmed the right of Kaepernick not to do so.

"I stand, because this mixed bag of evil and good is MY home," Watson said. "And because it's MY home my standing is a pledge to continue the fight against all injustice and preserve the greatest attributes of the country, including Colin Kaepernick's right to kneel."

The NFL player said that Kaepernick's actions are similar to other steps taken by past and present sports figures — and that these acts have often played an important role in social change and, as such, deserve respect.

As the Deseret News recently reported, Muhammad Ali and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf were two of those athletes.

Watson said he's hoping the attention currently being shed on the nation's plights will lead to positive dialogue and to "justice in legitimate situations where there is none."

"My hope is that in this time of toil and discord we collectively use our positions in public and private life to take responsibility for our role and collectively seek solutions, not because we HAVE to, but because we CARE to," he wrote. "Sometimes listening is of greater value than speaking."

Watson said he wants to see a day come when everyone can stand "in good conscience."

The NFL player is no stranger to speaking out on race, with many of his thoughts and perspectives on social issues gaining attention after a 2014 Facebook post he wrote about the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Then, in 2015, Watson released his first book, "Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race — and Getting Free From the Fears and Frustrations That Divide Us." Listen to Watson discuss race relations here.

"We all have the seeds of racism in our hearts," he told me in an interview on "The Church Boys" podcast last year. "Humans have an issue of default. It’s called sin that points us towards hating people, and being selfish, and being jealous and making others subservient to you, simply because they look different."

Email: bhallowell@deseretnews.com Twitter: billyhallowell Facebook: facebook.com/billyhallowell

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