BUFFALO, NY - A decorated military veteran from Western New York is speaking out on the controversy surrounding NFL players protesting during the national anthem at games.
WGRZ-TV spoke with U.S. Army Major Patrick Miller of Allegany from where he is currently stationed in Hawaii.
Major Miller made national headlines in 2014 when, despite being wounded in a shooting spree by a gunman at Fort Hood Texas, he was able to lead several others to safety….receiving the Soldiers Medal for heroism.
He’s also a big Buffalo Bills fan, and was honored by the team in a ceremony during a game three years ago.
So what did he think when he watched several members of his favorite team kneeling during the National Anthem?
“I personally don’t agree with kneeling for the anthem, but, I completely understand why they’re doing it,” said Miller, while noting that the protest being engaged in by the players is peaceful.
“If someone wants to peaceably protest that way, that is 1,000 times better than so many other violent and destructive protests that we’ve seen and I completely respect that,” Miller said,
As a soldier and a patriot, he says he will always stand for the National Anthem, and while he may not agree with those who don’t, he will not condemn them either.
“I feel like we need to have the empathy and emotional intelligence to understand people are gonna disagree on how we feel on certain issues. Not everyone has to feel the same way you do or I do, on sensitive divisive issues, but that’s okay because that’s what makes America so free and diverse,” he said.
However, he also believes Bills running back LeSean McCoy – who instead of taking a knee did stretching exercises on the sideline while the anthem was played -- did cross a line of disrespect.
“Personally, I’d have to say so,” said Miller. “It’s one thing to have a peaceful protest like taking a knee or sitting. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. But when you decide to do some stretching, and you are not actively engaged by standing or kneeling or sitting…yeah I think he (McCoy) took that a bit too far.”
McCoy’s actions also drew criticism from retired Hall of Fame Bills quarterback Jim Kelly.
Like many, Major Miller sees the National Anthem protests at games becoming a sensitive, and unfortunately divisive and incendiary issue.
However, while some have suggested it could be doused if at NFL games they just stopped playing the anthem, or not have the players on the field when it was played--- he doesn't see that as any solution.
“I feel like that's almost avoiding the issue or taking the easy way out, if you will...the problems will still exist, they just won't be shed to light on that stage during the National Anthem," he said.
Some, including many players, blame President Trump’s remarks for putting gas on the fire.
But Major Miller politely declined comment on that aspect of the topic.
He is, after all, an active member of the military, of which the President serves as Commander in Chief.