NFL Takes a Knee, Gives Trump the Finger

Peaceful protests spark conservative outrage

by Andrew Millman

Staff Sports Fan

Peaceful protests spark conservative outrage

Last Friday, President Trump took a break from the actual responsibilities of the presidency to attack various professional athletes for their perceived slights. You know, instead of doing what a normal president would, like helping Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory that is recovering from a catastrophic hurricane. 47% of this country doesn’t even know that Puerto Ricans are American citizens and Trump is probably one of them. But, I digress. Trump’s latest tantrum started when Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors said he might not attend the traditional post-championship White House visit because of Trump’s divisive rhetoric and numerous scandals. With his typical petulance, Trump tweeted that Curry was disinvited from an event he wasn’t planning on attending.

Then, at a rally in Alabama, Trump told the crowd that NFL owners should fire any “son of a bitch” who disrespects the flag. This was in response to ongoing protest, started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling during the national anthem last year. He was joined in solidarity by a handful of other athletes across several sports, but Kaepernick was not resigned by any team over the offseason after his contract expired. A few NFL players had continued Kaepernick’s protest, including Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Michael Bennett, and there has been a relatively small boycott of the NFL launched in protest of Kaepernick losing his job. However, the protest had largely faded from the collective consciousness of most Americans after the initial controversy last year until Trump’s comments on Friday.

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Dallas Cowboys take a knee in unison.

Trump claims that professional athletes silently kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality is disrespectful of the flag and also the soldiers that fought for it, but these players are simply exercising their constitutional right to express themselves and advocate for change, which is what those soldiers fought for. The flag symbolizes America and its values. One of those values is freedom of speech and it can be argued that preventing the players from protesting would be even more disrespectful towards the troops. Also, Colin Kaepernick took pains to remain respectful towards the flag while protesting. He initially sat during the anthem, but later switched to kneeling after an enlisted Marine told him that it would be more respectful towards our troops.

The President’s off-script and near-incoherent rants about professional athletes disrespecting the flag reignited the controversy and elevated it to a new prominence. It not only became the primary issue of the weekend’s political discourse, but also became the most significant cultural event in the country, with the sports world forced to grapple with the attack that the president levied against it. The number of NFL players protesting during the national anthem went from about a dozen to several hundred, with coaches and owners joining in as well. National anthem singers at two games even kneeled while singing.

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On Fox’s NFL pregame show, commentator Terry Bradshaw, a Hall of Fame quarterback, stated he was “not sure if our president understands those rights, that every American has the right to speak out and also to protest”. Terry Bradshaw lecturing the president on the Constitution must be a sign of the apocalypse. The issue became about freedom of speech, rather than police brutality, because the President of the United States was advocating that someone should be fired from their job for expressing a political belief that he disagreed with. The outrage was near-unanimous across the sports world. Former NFL head coach Rex Ryan said, “I’m pissed off, I’ll be honest. I supported Trump, and I’m appalled at these comments.” Even one of Trump’s most ardent celebrity supporters was uncomfortable with the direction of the president’s latest tirade.

In the past, Trump has been a vocal proponent of far-right college speakers on free speech grounds, so his denial of those same rights to mostly African-American professional athletes is especially jarring in this context. He emphatically defended the rights of actual Nazis to violently protest the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, but he draws the line at professional athletes peacefully protesting police brutality. It seems our current president has more of an affinity for white supremacists chanting racial slurs than professional athletes saying black lives matter. Trump’s comments transformed the issue from a protest against police brutality to a demonstration for freedom of speech and unity against Trump, two things that are much less controversial. Some team owners may have participated in the protests, but Colin Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job at a time when Brian Hoyer is currently the starting quarterback for the 49ers. The longer Kaepernick remains without a job, the more it proves that the owners are just as self-interested as Trump.

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