Symbols are powerful. Symbols inspire. Symbols unite, remind, embolden. Symbols are to be cherished, protected and honored.

The American flag and our national anthem are symbols. They are reminders of our very best and inspirations toward even better days, greater achievements, glorious ideals.

They represent our highest aspirations, unparalleled liberties, victories gained and those yet to come.

Do they proclaim perfection? No, but the closest to it mankind has yet come – and they urge us to confidently press on.

When black and white, old and young, rich and poor, Democrats, Republicans, Christians and Jews and atheists stand to sing that hallowed song and salute that beautiful flag – together – we say to the world and to each other, often with tears and heartfelt emotion, “We commit anew to what we say and sing, what we are deeply proud of and grateful for, and what we still hope to achieve, together.”

This is America, the home of the brave and the land of the free!

And these are hymns of gratitude for the millions of young Americans, of all races and ethnicities, who have laid their lives down – not because we’re perfect, but to ensure we can continue to strive for perfection!

Compare and contrast the thrilling, inspirational words delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C., in his March for Freedom speech with the unspoken denigration and rejection of our anthem and flag by a young millionaire football player in San Francisco, who had decided that both symbols were unworthy of his participation or respect.

Remember, the perceived unfulfilled promises Colin Kaepernick decried were even less perfected when King spoke. In his many demonstrations Rev. King was shoved, reviled, cursed and physically abused. As a Christian minister, he never achieved millionaire status for achievements in a playground game. One could say that if anyone deserved the right to severely criticize America, it was Martin Luther King.

But he didn’t.

No, on Aug. 28, 1963, before a crowd of 650,000 (larger than any football stadium), he spoke of the same issues as Kaepernick – problems that at that time were far worse – with a strong but eventually very positive message that indeed changed life in America. Remember?

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.” And it was.

On the Mall were 650,000 people, black and white, standing!

And though he of course referenced the promises in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the promises that “gave the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds,'” and said “now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children,” he went on forcefully to admonish, “in the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds.”

King went on, “Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

He looked prophetically into America’s future. He spoke of a day he knew would come. He saw a coming day when black and white would break bread together in commonality and equality, when a man would be judged not by the color of his skin, but the content of his character. In that rich, ringing voice Dr. King underscored what hadn’t been adequately achieved in equality for all, with his vision of a soon-coming America where the promises would be fulfilled.

He spoke his belief in America – and its vision.

And our whole country was shaken, and changed, and made better by what that man did on that day. Millions of us, black and white, will remember that speech always, and our attitudes, compassion and conduct were changed forever.

Now, a misguided though skilled athlete decides he can do more with derision, dismissal and disdain for our national symbols than Martin Luther King did with his vision for their fulfillment. I’ve read what Kaepernick says about still loving the country that has given him so much, and that he just intends to protest police brutality where it may have occurred. But in his actions and attitude, he has influenced many other young Americans in various sports, even young Pop Warner and Little League players, to follow his lead, not even understanding what he says it was all about.

Players now think they’re being “patriotic” by kneeling and disrespecting their flag – the American flag.

And rather than bringing people together in brotherhood and understanding and charitable action like Martin Luther King, Kaepernick’s actions and attitude have greatly deepened the divides and alienated the people he should be trying to reach!

And now Nike, in a very smart but transparent marketing ploy, is trying to elevate Kaepernick to sainthood, or at least to political hero (perhaps his own shoes with wings?) – as if he had mounted a civil rights movement on the football field, spreading to all young America.

And they’re paying him a reported $3 million to go along with this clever sales campaign.

If they really want to lionize a genuine hero, may I propose the young Miami Dolphin Ndamukong Sun, who recently ranked No.1 among NFL players donating to charity, including $2.6 million to the University of Nebraska and an additional $600,000 scholarship fund for the College of Engineering!

There are a veritable host of other highly paid athletes, like Tom Brady, the Manning brothers, Drew Brees and a lot of young black stars who are using their influence and money to make life better for countless kids of all races. This is “political activism” that makes a real, positive difference.

I believe Nike and Kaepernick owe an apology to the real champion of our freedoms – Martin Luther King Jr.

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