Sept. 25 — In an unprecedented display of solidarity, over 200 National Football League players from the vast majority of its 32 teams knelt, sat, raised fists and/or locked arms, along with their coaches and staff members, during the U.S. national anthem at NFL games on Sept. 24. They were protesting — from a range of perspectives — Donald Trump’s divisive, inflammatory, racist, anti-woman and anti-worker Twitter remarks made on Sept. 22. (newser.com)
Trump made an attempt on Sept. 25 to not only soften the blow of the protest but to also divide the protesters by expressing approval for those who locked arms, but not those who knelt.
Trump’s bigotry caused a 2,000 percent spike in NFL protests a week after “NFL Sunday” on Sept. 17. That spike doesn’t include protests by players at the Sept. 25 Monday Night Football game between the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals.
Trump sparked righteous anger and outrage among players and nationally when he ranted Sept. 22 at a Republican rally in Huntsville, Ala.: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—— off the field right now. Out. He’s fired! He’s fired!”
Trump’s tirade was a follow-up to his attacks singling out Colin Kaepernick. In the NFL’s 2016 season, the Black former San Francisco 49ers star quarterback took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and other forms of social injustice. Kaepernick also called Trump a racist, someone who — along with Hillary Clinton — was not worth voting for. Kaepernick’s actions reflect the truth that many vaunted Black NFL players have their own stories to tell of experiencing bigoted police violence at very young ages.
Trump’s racist tirade focused on a league where at least 70 percent of the players are African American, but 83 percent of the fan base is white. No African Americans are majority owners of an NFL team, and there are no African-American CEOs or presidents in the league. (football.realgm.com)
That Kaepernick is currently unemployed — essentially “fired” — has led to calls for an NFL season boycott by supporters who say he is being whiteballed by team owners. On the flip side, Kaepernick was just voted the NFL Players Association most valuable player for his charitable work in Black and Brown communities, especially for his Know Your Rights seminars that empower oppressed youth.
NFL Players Association: ‘We will never back down’
In response to Trump’s latest racist attack, the NFL, whether as teams or as individual members, decided to show unity as a “brotherhood.” No one in authority publicly defended Trump’s statement, neither the NFL commissioner nor the owners, some of whom supported Trump’s campaign but were forced to distance themselves from his comments. At least half of the teams have issued statements condemning Trump’s attacks.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals stayed in their locker rooms during the playing of the anthem on Sept. 24. While that was a violation of NFL rules, as of now there are no announced plans to fine these teams.
The all-African-American offensive line of the Oakland Raiders, along with a majority of their teammates, sat during the anthem. Two-time Pro-Bowler Travis Kelce, a tight end for the Kansas City team, became the first prominent white NFL player to take a knee.
Millions have taken to Twitter to express their anger toward Trump, resulting in top trending hashtags, #TakeAKnee and #IamwithKap, referring to Kaepernick. Some of the Miami Dolphins wore #IamwithKap warm-up T-shirts prior to their game.
Seattle Seahawks defensive player Doug Baldwin, a teammate of NFL star Michael Bennett, who was abused by Las Vegas police in late August, stated in an open letter on Twitter: “I am not surprised by Trump’s comments. He has shown, from the beginning, his dehumanized nature. … For all the hate and negativity that comes from Trump’s presidency, I am still hopeful for justice and love to win out.”
DeMaurice Smith, president of the NFL Players Association, announced firmly on Twitter: “We will never back down. We no longer can afford to stick to sports.”
Kaepernick’s impact transcends football
Trump’s words resonated even beyond football. On Sept. 23, Oakland Athletics catcher, Bruce Maxwell, who is African-American, became the first Major League Baseball player to kneel during the anthem. The reigning Women’s National Basketball Association champions, the Los Angeles Sparks, refused to come out of their locker room Sept. 24 during the anthem before the WNBA finals’ first game with the Minnesota Lynx. Women volleyball players at Johnson C. Smith, a historically Black university in North Carolina, knelt before their match. Even legendary singer Stevie Wonder took a knee during a recent concert.
An entire football team of 8-year-olds in Belleville, Ill., inspired by Kaepernick, took a knee Sept. 20 to protest the recent acquittal of a racist cop for the murder of a young Black man, Anthony Lamar Smith, in St. Louis, sparking several days of protests there.
Some Black commentators are raising, and rightfully so, whether Kaepernick’s main message got lost in the Sept. 24 protests, as other critics accused “disrespect” for U.S. military veterans or the U.S. flag.
But the main takeaway is that Kaepernick’s heroic stance against racism, police brutality and social injustice will continue to educate and inspire many players to take action. This will strengthen the general movement to fight white supremacy. As sports commentary, Dave Zirin, wrote in his column, “For the NFL, it was ‘Choose Your Side Sunday’”: “Kaepernick lit the match.” (thenation.com, Sept. 24)
Kenny Vaccaro, a New Orleans Saints safety, who sat with other teammates during the anthem, said eloquently on Sept. 24: “I don’t think it is a fight against Trump. I think we need to focus on the real problem. The inequality, the police brutality, that’s the real problem. I think people are taking it as Trump vs. the League, Trump vs. the NBA, but it’s not about that. People need to see the bigger picture. Guys don’t really care about Trump. They aren’t sitting because of that. They are sitting from what Kap started, the movement he started and I think people need to realize that it has nothing to do with our military.” (si.com)
Trump disses the Warriors
Trump didn’t confine his attacks to the NFL but also pounded on the National Basketball Association’s Golden State Warriors. The morning of Sept. 23, he took to Twitter to disinvite the reigning NBA champions from visiting the White House, an annual tradition for both amateur and pro sports championship teams since the early 1960s.
When the Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in June to win the NBA title, many of its players stated immediately that they wanted to boycott the White House, based on Trump’s racist and woman-hating views. They raised these objections two months before Trump defended the extreme violence of neo-Nazis and the KKK in Charlottesville on Aug. 12.
During the Warriors’ media day on Sept. 22, which officially opened the new season, Stephen Curry, the two-time league most valuable player, regarded by many as today’s most popular NBA player, reiterated his stance of not wanting to go to the White House: “We don’t stand for basically what our president stands for … the things that he said and the things that he hasn’t said in the right terms that we won’t stand for it. And by acting and not going, hopefully that will inspire some change when it comes to what we tolerate in this country and what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye to.”
Curry also alluded to the attacks on both Kaepernick and Bennett as why he didn’t want to go to the White House.
On Sept. 23, the day the Warriors were to meet to make a group decision on the White House visit, Trump tweeted that due to Curry’s “hesitating,” the Warriors would not be welcome.
Characterizing Trump’s tweet as a “I will preempt you before you preempt me” retaliation, the Warriors’ progressive head coach, Steve Kerr, emphasized that the team most likely would have voted “no” to the visit. Kerr added: “How about the irony of ‘Free speech is fine if you are a neo-Nazi chanting hate slogans but not to kneel in protest’?” (@Warriors)
Legendary Cleveland Cavalier player LeBron James defended Curry and called Trump a “bum.” Other NBA players, past and present, who backed up Curry were Chris Paul, Bradley Beal, Robin Lopez, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who was forced out of the NBA for bowing his head during the anthem in the 1990s.
“Hey @StephenCurry30, welcome to the club bro” was tweeted by Jemele Hill, the Black reporter for ESPN who categorized Trump as a “white supremacist” in early September. Trump has also demanded she be fired.
The Warriors’ Kevin Durant, the 2017 NBA’s Finals MVP, commented Sept. 24 on the football protest: “The NFL players are doing a great job of sending a great message. We stand behind them as athletes and we support them as well.” (csnbayarea.com)
Michele Roberts, the African-American executive director of the NBA’s Players Association, encouraged on Twitter: “Steph: consider this withdrawal a badge of honor!”