Brandon Marshall is not the son of a bitch.
He’s the son of Barbara, a proud, diligent American who worked two jobs to support Brandon and his brother, Marcus. When looking back on those days as a single mother, she emphasizes those who helped ease her burden. Her father served as strong support. And so did her God. She prayed, she said, without ceasing.
Marshall, a Broncos linebacker, kneeled last season during the national anthem. He kneeled for the same reason Alexander Hamilton savagely battled against the oppressive English and Martin Luther King Jr. peacefully marched against a racist regime in the South. Marshall saw injustice and chose to act. He believed unarmed, defenseless young men were being shot dead by police.
You may believe Marshall personally insulted you along with the American flag. The anthem, a simple song that once brought us together, has become a complicated, chaotic battlefield.
Marshall, along with his friend and college teammate Colin Kaepernick, helped fuel the transformation. Many of you are angry at Marshall and Kaepernick.
You have a right to your anger.
But nobody – no matter how powerful – has the right to describe Marshall as a “son of a bitch.” There is nothing – nothing – more American than peaceful protest.
And there’s nothing more Un-American than loudly questioning the patriotism of another American. It’s reckless, and pointless, to call a man names because he chooses a different path, this time kneeling instead of standing.
On Friday, President Donald J. Trump called each anthem protester "a son of a bitch” and said he hopes NFL owners fire the protesters.
I wish Our President would listen to John, a retired colonel who recently sent me a note. John is not a Kaepernick fan. But he understands there's a deep lesson about freedom to be found in the kneeling.
"I spent a couple prolonged deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq in an attempt to create a more equitable 'playing field' for citizens that conceptually couldn't fathom democracy,” John wrote. “As unpopular his speech, this is the nation which provides him the forum to exercise his First Amendment right to free speech.
“So those casting stones, really should pause and question: Will their constitutional rights be in question one day? Will expressing beliefs result in the inability to provide for self and family?"
Good questions. Good luck answering them.
Listen, I understand this is a complicated issue. I’ve talked with dozens of friends about the issue.
One is Floyd Little, the greatest running back in Broncos history. He grew up desperately poor in Connecticut, but embraced the promises of our country. He sprinted to touchdowns on the edge of downtown Denver and helped save a once-fragile franchise. He owned a string of car dealerships on the West Coast. He’s a sensitive, perceptive man who loves America.
He’s troubled by those who kneel.
“The anthem stands for freedom, justice for everybody in this country,” Little told me. “It’s like the Constitution. It’s very special, and you honor it.”
There’s another view. This view is expressed by Barbara Marshall, who also loves America.
“Brandon was chosen among many, mainly because despite the fact that he could lose everything that he’s worked his whole life for, he didn’t let that deter him from a higher purpose, a calling that God had for his life,” she wrote. “He used his platform to try and create change, or to at least start a dialogue towards change. ... I celebrate him for his courage and strength.”
In August, I talked with Marshall after a Broncos practice. He lost money, he said, when he kneeled. He gained self-respect.
“At the end of the day, I did what I thought was right,” Marshall said. “I’m comfortable with myself when I go to sleep, so I’m good.”
He’s the son of a fiercely proud American who taught him to fight for his beliefs, no matter the cost. He’s become part of a national tornado, and the storm is not close to ending.
I stood at Falcon Stadium on Saturday evening during the anthem because I celebrate the promises of America, promises we always will struggle to keep.
One of the precious promises is the freedom of dissent, the freedom to kneel in silence, all by yourself, even when surrounded by 75,000 who stand.