By Seth Daniel
Just as there have been no shortage of supporters of the Chelsea High girls volleyball team taking a knee at the National Anthem this month, there is similarly no shortage of people who are bothered by the statement.
Veterans are particularly bothered by the choice of high schoolers using the National Anthem to protest injustice, as it is historically a time to remember American soldiers who are deployed, dead or disabled. In a City where the primary state veterans care facility – the Soldiers’ Home – is located, that rings even more true than the average locale.
Members of the Soldiers’ Home said they could not comment on the matter, but many who spend considerable time there were hurt by the choice.
Bruce Dobson, who is the vice president of the East region of the Vietnam Veterans of America Massachusetts State Council, said he would like to meet with the girls. He said they are simply being followers, and not leading for the change they want.
Instead, they are hurting people who have lost life and limb to protect them.
“Protesting is acceptable in our country,” Dobson, who lives in Winthrop, said. “But to take a knee during the National Anthem is not. The National Anthem is to show respect to the Veterans who gave you the opportunity to be able to protest. If the volleyball team wants to protest, go to the steps of City Hall and take a knee. That will get a reaction without being disrespectful to veterans. The volleyball team members are being followers; be leaders and do something in your community. I would be willing to engage the volleyball at any time.”
School Committeeman Richard Maronski said he doesn’t agree with their stance and doesn’t believe the schools should allow it. For him, not only is it disrespectful, but shows that the youth aren’t being guided correctly.
“One problem is the kid seem to be leading the way in what should be allowed; we have the tail wagging the dog,” he said. “We are in a soft school system. The standards are lessened. The sports program seems to be getting worse. On the issue, I don’t think it’s right and I don’t think they know exactly what they are doing…I don’t think it’s right they get to take a knee wearing a Chelsea uniform. They can protest on their own time…I support the kids on what’s happening to them and what’s said to them, but I don’t support how they are going about it.”
Maronski said he attends St. Michael’s Church next to the Soldiers’ Home every Sunday, and Father Healey reads a list of the soldiers who have passed every week. He said he would like the volleyball team to attend that sad ceremony, and to also become acquainted with the many wounded soldiers living in the Home – soldiers who hold the Anthem as dear to them as their own lives.
Chelsea Veterans Agent Francisco Toro said he had no official position, but as the City’s chief advocate and service provider, he’s already heard a lot of opinions. Interestingly, not all are against – yet not all are for either.
“I provide services to the veterans and am an advocate and a voice for the veterans in this community,” he said. “There are some veterans who think that taking a knee is disrespectful and some that don’t think it is. If you were to go and speak to a group of 100 veterans in Chelsea, I would say that there would be no one group on one particular side or the other…I’ve heard both sides from the veterans on this.”