Every Sunday, new stories and tweets appear offering updates on a protest that has caught the nation’s attention — players in the National Football League (NFL) silently kneeling during the National Anthem.
The protests have attracted not only the media’s attention but also that of the man in the Oval Office. President Donald Trump has publicly said that any player who kneels is a “son of a bitch” and has bribed league owners with popularity if they fire their kneeling players.
But Trump’s outrage against the protests — which began as a way to call attention to police brutality and racial injustice in the United States — goes deeper than divisive rhetoric. It ignores the inequities the protests address and acts to further push his racist, nationalist agenda.
History of the protest
San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a stand by taking a knee against racial injustice in August 2016. Using his platform as a professional football player in the National Football League to make a political statement, he began kneeling every time the National Anthem played before games.
His actions went unnoticed at first but soon gained media attention.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said in an interview with the NFL explaining why he was kneeling. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
For much of the 2016-2017 season, Kaepernick knelt alone. But many other players and teams have joined him this season, including the Miami Dolphins, the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks, which made a statement as a team in September calling out racial injustice and explaining it as the reason for kneeling.
“We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country,” the team said in a statement. “Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms.”
Trump is perhaps the person most infatuated with this protest. Between Sept. 23 and Oct. 23, 12 percent of his tweets were directed at the NFL protest.
“The NFL has decided that it will not force players to stand for the playing of our National Anthem. Total disrespect for our great country!” he said in one tweet.
“NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country,” he wrote in another.
“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues he or she should not be allowed to disrespect … our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” he exclaimed in yet another.
Trump isn’t the only white dude in the White House upset about this protest. Vice President Mike Pence actually left the Oct. 8 game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers when players took a knee during the National Anthem.
“I left today’s Colts game because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, and our National Anthem,” he said in a statement. “At a time when so many Americans are inspiring our nation with their courage, resolve, and resilience, now, more than ever, we should rally around our Flag and everything that unites us. While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I don’t think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem.”
Later, Trump addressed the protest at a late September rally in Alabama (who holds rallies when they’re already in the White House?). After referring to any player who kneels as a “son of a bitch,” he told the NFL team owners how popular they would be if they fired players for kneeling. Amid chants of “U.S.A.,” Trump said, “They’ll be the most popular for a week… the most popular person in the country.”
Trump’s tweets show that he refuses to listen to anything that opposes his ideal of America — one where people are obedient to the flag, authority and show unwavering “respect” to the country and its leaders (him).
He speaks about players as if the teams own them, sending a message that if they are not obedient, they will be fired and have no place in this country. Sound familiar? Think slavery.
He bashes the ratings of the networks and those who cover the protest and does nothing to hide his disgust for it. He makes arguments (bad ones) that ignore the reason behind the protest and instead call for total commitment to the American Flag — ignoring the mass incarceration of people of color, the incredible number of black bodies killed at the hands of the state and the racial inequities in education and the job market.
Trump claims the protest has “nothing to do with race” and is simply un-American. But he forgot to mention that the America he loves so much would actually be an all-white one.
Trump is WRONG.
So, is the protest anti-American?
No. Kaepernick wanted to take a stand against racial injustices and people joined him. Each Sunday, we see teams and individual players kneeling in support.
In fact, even some members of the military and veterans — the groups of people Trump claims are most disrespected by this protest — actually support it.
John Middlemas, a 97-year-old World War II veteran, shared a photo of himself kneeling in solidarity with NFL players. He captioned the photo: “Those kids have every right to protest.”
Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret, also kneeled alongside Kaepernick and even encouraged him to do so rather than to sit.
Rory Fanning, who served in Afghanistan, said last year: “(Kaepernick) is choosing not to lie to himself, the world, or all the people who thought they died to ensure we lived in a free country, by claiming this is the land of the free when it is not. This is the opposite of an insult to those who died thinking they were fighting for liberty.”
Trump and Pence have manipulated this protest into something it isn’t. They claim kneeling for the National Anthem is un-American, un-patriotic, and — worst of all — anti-veteran. Trump uses his fiery words to gain media attention and place the light where he wants it to be. With this stunt, he creates two groups of people: those who love America, and those who “disrespect” it.
Clearly, Trump missed the mark “HUGE” (or chooses to completely ignore and manipulate it to fit his agenda) about the reasons behind these protests. They are about racism and police brutality — not about hating America.
Honestly, this protest is genius. It’s a non-violent movement broadcast every Sunday to the average American. Not all Americans watch football, but it still reaches a large portion of the country and is impossible to ignore.
Kaepernick’s kneeling, other players joining him and the support of many veterans threaten Trump’s attacks on the protest. The NFL has even ignored Trump’s promises of popularity by leaving the decision to stand or kneel up to individual players.
Kneeling during the National Anthem at NFL games has created another platform to challenge the racism and police brutality that persists in America. It also creates the opportunity to question what the American Flag really stands for — equality and justice for all, or just for the privileged groups?
Most of all, it is a challenge to Trump’s power and racist agenda, sending a clear signal that we’re watching and we’ve had enough of racial inequity in this country.