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Mt. Holyoke picked the wrong time and the wrong place to make a statement

New London – News item: Several members of the Mt. Holyoke College women’s lacrosse team chose to kneel during the national anthem before last Saturday’s game at Coast Guard Academy.

This is disturbing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the failure to understand that the word “civil” is part of “civil disobedience” for a reason.

Straight up: There is nothing civil about being disrespectful to the flag on a military base, flaunting a right to protest in the face of cadets, who may risk their lives one day to protect the tenets for which the flag stands.

I get this much: One of those tenets is civil disobedience. Hence, I am not suggesting the young women of Mount Holyoke College are wrong to kneel for the national anthem. I just don’t believe they ought to be kneeling at Coast Guard Academy or any other military base.

If Mt. Holyoke women’s lacrosse players want to kneel on their home field, then kneel away. They can do the Charleston for all I care. But their choices Saturday at Coast Guard are intolerable.

Imagine going to dinner at someone else’s house and walking out of the room if the home owners decide to recite the Lord’s Prayer before eating. Nobody’s saying you need to participate in the prayer. But you sit there quietly and respect the other’s house, rules and traditions.

“Mount Holyoke College's student-athletes come from wide-ranging backgrounds and thus have varied beliefs and perspectives,” wrote Amie Canfield, Mount Holyoke’s Associate Athletic Director/Communications in an email Thursday. “The college respects the rights of our students to demonstrate their beliefs in ways that are peaceful, lawful and respect the rights and dignity of others. Our Code of Ethics encourages all community members to engage in respectful discourse when differences arise around backgrounds, political thoughts or philosophical opinions.”

Sorry. But there is no dignity whatsoever in disgracing a military academy by ignoring the principals of common decency.

“I was at the game and found is pretentious and disrespectful,” said John Cody of Old Lyme, whose daughter, Kristen, was the captain of Mount Holyoke’s 2010 team. “Those Coast Guard kids are literally going to put their lives on the line. I just can’t believe anyone at Mt. Holyoke would condone that.”

Cody said he spoke to his daughter, who lives in Australia, about it Thursday.

“She is as angry as I am,” John Cody said. “She said there’s no place for that kind of behavior when you are playing at a military academy.”

Moreover, Mt. Holyoke is betraying its own history. Recent published reports unearthed how Mt. Holyoke students helped change the course of World War II by participating in secret, code breaking classes in the 1940s. According to the web site of a Springfield (Mass.) television station, “women who aced this secret course work were sent to work for the Navy in Washington. Some Mount Holyoke students helped break Japanese codes just before the battle of Midway.”

Heck of a way to repay that kind of bravery.

Once again, just so we’re clear on this: This does not suggest Mt. Holyoke students do not have the right to protest. This is strictly about the forum they chose.

“As members of the military, cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy render honors to the flag and to the national anthem,” Commander Dave Milne, Coast Guard’s Director External and Governmental Affairs, wrote in an email. “They stand at attention during the national anthem and salute the flag on a regular basis as a military tradition and a reminder of why they serve. At the same time, they respect the right of others to protest and bring attention to important issues and promote a culture of respect.”

Commander Milne’s response came after I asked to interview members of the Coast Guard women’s lacrosse team about the issue. I was denied. I asked why.

“As Coast Guard cadets they are members of the military. As with all members of the military, we do not comment on controversial or political issues that are part of a national discussion,” Commander Milne said. “Members of the Coast Guard and the cadets remain respectful of the rights of others to bring attention to important issues.”

I suspect that neither Coast Guard nor members of any other military academy want to be in the middle of a firestorm about a controversial issue. Disappointing, but understandable.

Friends of mine at Coast Guard say that virtually everyone at the Academy was disgusted Saturday with Mt. Holyoke and its choices. Not the first time it’s happened.

Maybe next time, either in honor of the school’s military history or after earnest contemplation of what “civil” disobedience means, Mt. Holyoke’s behavior will change. We should be evolved enough to realize that kneeling for the national anthem has its place.

Just not at a military academy.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro



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