Brad Snyder, a five-time Paralympic gold medalist who lost his eyesight in Afghanistan, defended protesting injustice during the national anthem.
Brad Snyder's patriotism is not up for debate. After graduating from the Naval Academy in 2006, where he was the captain of the swim team, Snyder served in Afghanistan as a Navy explosive ordnance disposal officer. In September of 2011, he lost sight in both his eyes after he stepped on an improvised explosive device while trying to help victims of another bombing.
After learning how to live as a fully blind man, Snyder returned to the pool. He's since won two gold medals at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London and three more golds at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro. He also won a silver at each games, bringing his total medal count to seven.
In an interview with SI Now, Snyder, 33, said the flag means a great deal to him, but also voiced his support for those who protest during the national anthem.
"It was difficult at first because as a veteran, we really do tie the anthem and the decorum surrounding the flag to our service and the service members," Snyder said. "You see the flags that drape the coffins of those who come back, and having buried a couple friends of mine, that decorum is something we hold very sacred."
Snyder then said that a particular experience shifted his attitude on the anthem. When he returned from Rio, he was joined at the White House by two men who made one of the most famous sports protests in history: Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who both held up black-gloved fists during the national anthem after the two won medals at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
"To have [Smith and Carlos] there and to think about what happened in '68, and to think about the relationship law enforcement has with our underprivileged areas and where we are with civil rights right now, I couldn't help but think that I support. I served to support the freedom of speech, and I support those who wish to use their platform to call attention to the things that are wrong with our country.
However, I do, I hold very near and dear to that decorum, and our flag represents something very important to me. I think the two get conflated right now, but I think we should call attention to the things that need to be fixed."
Protests during the national anthem have been widespread across the sports world recently after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stopped standing during the national anthem last year to protest racial injustice in America. Kaepernick's actions and subsequent protests have been the subject of heated debate ever since.
In September, President Donald Trump said owners should fire players who protest and referred to them as "son of a b----."