Before it became a hot-button topic in the NFL and across the country, Mike Sullivan told the Giants players what the national anthem meant to him.
It was in a meeting in training camp, when Colin Kaepernick was a backup quarterback and not a social lightning rod. Sullivan, a former Army Ranger and graduate of West Point, along with his friend Ret. Lt. Col. Greg Gadson, who has been part of the Giants’ family for nearly a decade, told the players why he believed they should stand at attention for the pregame playing of the song.
“When I was fortunate enough to address the team early on it was with the focus of as the New York Giants, as the flagship organization of the NFL, we’re going to do things with class,” Sullivan said on Thursday. “That’s what our organization personifies. But then the major point was just touching on my experiences and how much it means to the men and women in uniform to know that their heroes, the professional football players, are going to take those couple of minutes.”
So far this season, that message seems to have hit home with the Giants. For each of the pregame national anthems they stand in a straight line along the sideline with the coaches and staff in a second line behind them. While others around the NFL and other sports have joined Kaepernick’s movement of either sitting or kneeling, no Giants have not done so.
“The way we operate for the national anthem, we consider it a small gesture to those who served and sacrificed their lives for our country and for us to play and coach in this great game,” coach Ben McAdoo said earlier in the preseason. “Part of that is the freedom of speech and we certainly respect that. We talked to our guys about keeping empathy in mind when they do lead and they do use this league as a platform. I’d be disappointed if one our guys chose not to stand. It’s their choice. It’s not mandatory, but we feel it’s important.”
Sullivan got emotional when talking about the topic on Thursday.
“Based on my military background, as you would expect, I have very very strong feelings about the national anthem,” he said, “what it means, the liberty and freedom, and most importantly all of those who have served and those who are serving and those who will serve who provide us with that freedom. That freedom comes at a price and I think the important thing that is often lost and maybe recently has been lost is that the military is not just the military, they are fathers, they are mothers, they are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. There is a face to them and they need to be respected and they need to be appreciated.”
Obviously not everyone agrees with that.
“It’s not about politics,” Sullivan said. “It’s about showing appreciation and respect for those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and for those who are allowing individuals to express their opinions. Certainly that individual is free to have his views and he’s bringing awareness to some important issues, but what I would strongly disagree with is the method at that time when there are so many who have sacrificed so much who ought to be respected and honored.”