Benjamin Watson, Tight End for the New Orleans Saints, has shared his thoughts regarding the Charleston shootings and the presence of the Confederate flag on the South Carolina State House grounds, asserting that "it is difficult to completely 'move forward' if painful, divisive icons continue to stand unchallenged."
On Tuesday, Watson, who regularly expresses his Biblically-grounded views on a variety of political and social issues, took to Facebook to weigh in on the controversy.
"The emotional bucket overflows with anger, trepidation, sorrow, a perverted pride and apathy," Watson wrote of how he feels when he sees a Confederate flag, whether it is mounted on a truck or flown in front of a building.
The 34-year-old athlete, who is African-American, shared the story of one of his best friends in high school, who was white. Watson said he was taken aback to see the flag in his friend's bedroom and later touched when he saw it was taken down.
"If we, like my friend Frank, finally listen to the cries and concerns of those we say we care about, soften our hearts, and choose to lay our liberties aside to assuage the pain of our brothers, the only suitable option would be a unanimous decision to remove the flag from the public grounds at the Palmetto State Capitol," Watson wrote.
The NFL star cited the recent massacre at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in which nine people were gunned down by 21-year-old Dylann Roof who reportedly hoped to start a "race war."
"It should not take the brutal, senseless killings of innocent black Americans in a church by a young white man, to ensure the removal of the confederate battle flag from the State House grounds where it has flown in proud defiance of the civil rights movement since the 1960's," he wrote.
However, Watson emphasized that hastily removing the Confederate flag from public displays as a reaction to recent events wouldn't get to the heart of the matter -- but rather, "the HEART is the matter" and people need to become more aware of what the flag represents to others.
"If we remove the Confederate flag from the State Capitol for any reason other than a change in the hearts of South Carolinians, we may as well leave it be," he wrote, "But it is difficult to completely 'move forward' if painful, divisive icons continue to stand unchallenged."
In concluding his thoughts, Watson praised the Charleston community and the families of the victims for showing forgiveness and compassion to Roof despite his lack of remorse.
"The outpouring for Charleston has been nothing short of extraordinary and inspiring," Watson wrote. "Sometimes it takes one person, one neighborhood, one city, and one state to show the unifying love of Christ to the world."
Earlier this year, Watson, who has four children with his wife, received the Sports Impact Award at the K-LOVE Fan Awards, which are sponsored by a Christian music radio network.
In March, Watson's powerful Facebook post about the Islamic State and the rise of Christian persecution throughout the world quickly went viral and established him as one of the most outspoken and influential Christian athletes of today. He has also addressed other hot-button issues such as Ferguson, Baltimore, and the "Deflategate" controversy in a powerful, thoughtful way.