At a rally in Alabama on Sept. 23, President Donald Trump veered from his usual remarks and strayed into sports.
“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 said, as broadcasted on Cable News Network (CNN).
The comments seemed to invoke former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who chose to kneel during the National Anthem last fall as a way to enhance awareness surrounding police brutality. His actions ignited debate and discussion around First Amendment rights and patriotism, but left spectators bitter on both sides.
Channeling his reality television persona from “The Celebrity Apprentice,” Trump’s hard-line stance elicited cheers from his supporters in the crowd.
The next day, the response from professional athletes and owners around the country was swift and severe. According to The Chicago Tribune, over 200 National Football League (NFL) players sat or kneeled during the anthem over the weekend following Trump’s remarks.
Prominent sports figures like LeBron James responded by mocking the president on Twitter and other forms of social media. At a concert in New York, musician Stevie Wonder announced he was taking knee for our country.
“A lot of guys… were upset that he would imply that we can’t exercise our First Amendment rights as players. We were upset that he would imply that we should be fired for exercising those rights,” Baltimore Raven Benjamin Watson explained, as quoted by The Baltimore Sun.
Most striking about the weekend was the way players, coaches, trainers, administrators, and owners chose for themselves whether to sit or stand. Many kneeled while others held hands, linked arms with those standing, or placed their hands on the shoulders of those kneeling. Owners stood alongside their players, showing overt support for their right to freely express themselves.
“That’s a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s total disrespect of everything that we stand for,” Trump said in a CNN telecast.
I could not disagree more fervently. What “we” stand for, and what the flag stands for, is free speech, the right to disagree, and the right to think differently. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs or objections to kneeling during the anthem, the ability to protest is a core and essential freedom that cannot be taken lightly. Trump’s desire to curb this dissent is deeply troubling.
We should applaud, support, and protect the individuals who choose to stand, sit, or kneel.