Thursday, October 05, 2017


There’s a lot of media buzz about the heroic defense of our First Amendment professional football players have mounted in response to our President’s intemperate remarks about what they’re doing.

Many in the media seems to want us to embrace them as heroes, but I can’t bring myself to that place. The players were well within their rights to protest, but calling their actions heroic is a bridge too far.

I can think of others who stood for what they believed who were truly heroic, not only because they stood up for what they believed, but also because they did so willingly, at considerable risk to themselves.

On October 22nd, 1965, not long after I’d arrived in Vietnam, a young Chicagoan named Milton Olive, who was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was killed in action. He and four other soldiers were moving through the jungle on a search and destroy mission. The Viet Cong started lobbing grenades at them. They were in trouble. Image result for milton olive

The medal of honor citation speaks eloquently of the type of man Milton Olive was: “Private Olive saw the grenade, and then saved the lives of his fellow soldiers at the sacrifice of his own by grabbing the grenade in his hand and falling on it to absorb the blast with his body.”

Milton Olive risked everything for his fellow soldiers. He didn’t have to. He had surely felt the sting of prejudice during his life. He was African-American. Further, one of the men he saved, Robert Toporek, was southerner. He and Olive had fought one another before they arrived in Vietnam. Somehow, that fight opened the door for brotherhood. Toporek, who survived the firefight, described how it happened - “After that, we were brothers. We were fighting the same Viet Cong. We didn’t care what color your skin was, what race you were.”

Robert Toporek, the white southerner, lived. Milton Olive, the African-American from Chicago, died to save him. That’s heroism born out of love.

Sophie Scholl was born in Germany in 1921, to what has been described as “free-thinking Christian parents.” She grew up reading Socrates, Augustine, and Pascal. She learned from the Bible that “words must be made real in actions.” (James 1:22) Her father taught her that “What I want for you is to live in uprightness and freedom of spirit, no matter how difficult that proves to be.” By the time she was 21, she had seen the evil of the Third Reich and believed that time for both words and action had come. She helped form an organization called “the White Rose” in 1942. For about a year they secretly printed anti-Nazi literature and distributed it. The sentiments were printed in bold fonts with simple messages - “LONG LIVE FREEDOM’”or “DOWN WITH HITLER.”  It wasn’t a glamorous protest, with media breathlessly hanging on every word they published.

In 1943, she and her “co-conspirators” were caught and subjected to a show trial. The Nazi judge’s verdict was a foregone conclusion. Sophie was to be executed on the guillotine. Her last recorded words to her cellmate spoke volumes - “Such a glorious, sunny day and I must go...What will my death matter if, because of our actions, thousands of people will be awakened and stirred to action.”

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Sophie Scholl was 22 when she died. She could have remained silent in the face of the evil around her, but remaining steadfast in principle meant more to her than life itself. That’s heroism of the highest order.

The Little Sisters of the Poor is a Catholic order of nuns that was founded in 1839 by Saint Jeanne Jugan. Her mission statement for the order was simple - “My little ones, never forget that the poor are Our Lord; in caring for the poor say to yourself: This is for my Jesus – what a great grace!”

The American branch of the order provides food, shelter, and nurture to the old, infirm, and poor. They ask nothing for themselves. They own their dignity and faith, nothing more. They take vows of poverty in order to do their good work.

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Yet, the Little Sisters have run afoul of our government. They’ve refused to obey what they believe to be an immoral Obamacare mandate to provide abortifacients to those they employ. They’ve been threatened with fines so steep they would have to shut down their operations.

Their case has gone to the Supreme Court. It’s still in limbo. The Little Sisters are standing firm. They’re risking everything for what they believe. That, I submit to you, is heroism.

I have no axes to grind with the N.F.L. I just don’t consider what they’re doing heroic. When it comes to heroism, there are plenty of candidates who are more worthy of that honor.