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Legendary SEAL leader: National anthem protests disrespect the military

The legendary SEAL commander who reminded America of the importance of making your bed is weighing into the national anthem protests inspired by an NFL quarterback.

Retired Adm. Bill McRaven, the former head of U.S. Special Operations Command who commanded the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, in his role as chancellor of the University of Texas system called on U-T athletics managers to urge athletes to stand up straight, hand over heart, during the national anthem

"I spent 37 years defending freedom of speech and freedom of expression," McRaven wrote. "Nothing is more important to this democracy. Nothing! However, while no one should be compelled to stand, they should recognize that by sitting in protest to the flag they are disrespecting everyone who sacrificed to make this country what it is today -- as imperfect as it might be."

His memo comes in the midst of a national debate sparked by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who said he'll continue taking a knee during "The Star-Spangled Banner" until people of color are treated more fairly. His protest even inspired a sailor in school at Naval Air Station Pensacola to follow Kaepernick's lead and sit during a colors ceremony.

McRaven doesn't want to see any such protest from his Longhorns, saying the American flag is reminder of the enduring commitment to improve the nation and a symbol that demands respect.

McRaven's flair for public speaking gained national attention when he gave a rousing speechto the class of 2014 at UT's commencement, giving the students wisdom he'd gained over nearly four decades as a SEAL. Among the lessons: Make your bed.

"If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day," he said. "It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another."

In his memo to the athletics department, he said that honoring the flag "is our collective commitment that we will constantly attempt to get better as a nation, to improve as a people, and to use the freedoms we have been given to make the earth a better place."

You can read the full text below, or download the memo here.

MEMORANDUM  

TO: Presidents and Athletic Directors, The University of Texas System

From: William H. McRaven

As most of you recall, last January I sent out a letter asking you to encourage your coaching staff and your players to stand up straight when the National Anthem was played. I requested that the coaches and the players "face the flag and place their hand over their heart as a sign of respect to the nation."

I made it clear that honoring the flag does not imply that the republic for which it stands is perfect. I said "Far from it, honoring the flag is our collective commitment that we will constantly attempt to get better as a nation, to improve as a people, and to use the freedoms that we have been given to make the earth a better place."

I spent 37 years defending freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Nothing is more important to this democracy. Nothing! However, while no one should be compelled to stand, they should recognize that by sitting in protest to the flag they are disrespecting everyone who sacrificed to make this country what it is today -- as imperfect as it might be.

Those that believe the flag represents oppression should remember all the Americans who fought to eliminate bigotry, racism, sexism, imperialism, communism, and terrorism. The flag rode with the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th, 10th, 24th and 25 Cavalry and Infantry Regiments. It was carried by the suffragists down the streets of New York City. It flew with the Tuskegee Airmen of WWII. It was planted in the fields where Cesar Chavez spoke. It marched with Martin Luther King Jr. It rocketed into space on the shoulder patches of women, gay, Hispanic, Asian and African American astronauts. Today, it waves high over the White House. It is a flag for everyone, of every color, of every race, of every creed, and every orientation, but the privilege of living under this flag does not come without cost. Nor should it come without respect.

The nation and everything it strives for is embodied in the American Flag. We strive to be more inclusive. We strive to be more understanding. We strive to fix the problems that plague our society. But in striving to do so, we must have a common bond; some symbol that reminds us of our past struggles and propels us to a brighter, more enlightened future. That symbol is the American flag.

I would, once again, ask the Presidents and the Athletic Directors to convey my message to your teams. The young student-athletes are the future leaders of this nation. By showing respect for the flag, they are making it possible for America to be everything we dreamed it could be.

Thank you.

/whm

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