The National Football League has been a hotbed of controversy over the last year.
What started as isolated incidents of players kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” quickly spiraled out of control, and after entire teams refused to respect the American flag, many football fans made their frustration with the league known.
However, certain teams have reached out to show that they aren’t all on the flag-insulting bandwagon. One of those organizations is the Minnesota Vikings, which created a moving tribute to American soldiers that has gone viral online.
A Facebook video posted by Marine Corp Recruiting Station Twin Cities in October has now received over 2 million views. It shows two United States Marines in full dress uniform keeping watch inside the Vikings football stadium… but it wasn’t the crowd that they were protecting.
“Marines stand guard during the Minnesota Vikings game over an empty seat symbolizing those service members who were prisoners of war or missing in action,” explained the post.
In a ritual that resembles the patrols at the famous Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Marines solemnly protect the reserved empty seat as a small memorial to those who cannot enjoy the game because they never returned home.
“For every Vikings game, one unfilled seat permanently covered in black and located in section V8 is guarded by current military members,” explained Vikings.com when the team unveiled the tribute in 2016.
“Decorated with the POW/MIA logo and set in front of the seals of the five branches of the United States Military, the seat honors military personnel missing and unaccounted-for from all conflicts, including the 1,618 from the Vietnam War.”
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The seat is meant as a permanent place of honor for service members who have been lost during times of war.
“A plaque accompanying the seat states ‘With reverence we hold this seat of valor for those brave men and women, living and dead, who sacrificed in the limelight of honor and glory that we may have freedom. They will not be forgotten,’” the team explained.
After the Vikings lost in the NFC Championship game in Philadelphia on Sunday, they won’t be playing in the Super Bowl at Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium on Feb. 4.
A representative from Marine Corps recruiting told Conservative Tribune on Monday that the tradition of standing post for the reserved seat will be continued during the Super Bowl, but another branch will likely have the honor as different military units rotate the stadium duty.
Several individual NFL players have also shown their respect for the military during the last year. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, for instance, has not one but two grandparents who served in World War II, and frequently gives back to the military community.
“I’ve been on five USO trips,” Brees explained. “I had always wanted to do that, just to show my appreciation.”
“What I love is that when we’re there (on a USO tour), and we’re giving them that taste of home, they take so much pride in what they do and in serving their country,” the quarterback continued.
The Minnesota Vikings’ own quarterback, Case Keenum, has reportedly refused to participate in kneeling protests during the national anthem.
It’s been a rough season for the NFL, and as it draws to a close, the league will hopefully re-evaluate its stance on the constant protests and distractions.
Teams could learn a lot from the small but powerful display at the Vikings stadium, and take a page from the U.S. Marine Corps: Respect the flag and the sacrifices of soldiers, and realize that there are bigger heroes than football players.
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