While millions of American citizens suffer without power and communication, millions of other American citizens are debating protests by players, coaches and owners of National Football League teams.

As Puerto Rico’s 3 million people cope with the devastation that Hurricane Maria visited upon the island last week, President Trump attacks people—who play a game for a living—for being unpatriotic by taking a knee during the National Anthem played before football games. The president said he would visit Puerto Rico next week.

Why is the suffering that Puerto Ricans are going through any different than what Texans or Floridians or Louisanders suffered after Harvey and Irma? The country opened its wallets for those states, held telethons that raised millions of dollars, yet, our territory in the Caribbean is left twisting in the wind.

Many things have gone topsy turvy in America over the past 18 months. It’s no wonder that we latch onto a secondary story as if it were a matter of life and country. Football players protesting in the way they see best is not on the same scale as millions of Americans suffering from a natural disaster or the fact that in the face of a rising ecnomy, many American still feel unsettled and uncertain of their future.

This is especially true when the United States is conducting a war of words with North Korea.  Does turning a protest by a sports team  into a major controversy seem paramount compared to threats that our planes might be blown out of the sky even if it is only near North Korean air space? Who wants to get on a plan heading to Asia now?

Americans have been rocked and jostled by events from the Great Recession, to home foreclosures, health care expenses, a constant war in Afghanistan, fears of terrorism, a divisive presidential election and Tweets from the victor. We want a break from wave after wave of bad news we can do nothing about—it is only natural we will respond to the things we can understand.

Some think that football players who  take a knee during the Anthem are protesting America. In reality, the protests began as a response to police shootings of African-Americans. The president tweeted that they were protesting the American flag and should be fired. That’s how situations become full blown controversies.

All this comes down to two words: respect and dignity. All citizens should respect our nation’s  flag. The flag represents the freedom to protest what we disagree with. We should all strive to maintain the dignity of all other people. A person who does not share your beliefs is not the enemy, they are a person worthy of respect and dignity who does not agree with you.

Americans are free to protest the protest, but what could really show that we are all part of one nation, indivisible, is to reach out to our fellow Americans. Puerto Ricans deserve the respect of their fellow Americans more than that they need financial and infrastructure help.

Turn the energy of trivial protests to helping people in dire need. We would do nothing less for Americans in our own backyard.

              —LAZ