Monday, September 25, 2017 at 8:09 AM

NFL: Kneeling, the Flag, and the National Anthem

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

To kneel, or not to kneel: that is not the question.

The question is whether kneeling during the national anthem does anything to combat police brutality or advance the cause of racial justice. It. Does. Not.

What’s more, I challenge anyone to cite a case that demonstrates otherwise. And please, this issue is fraught enough without propagating the canard about a player’s right to protest. Only fools are questioning or challenging that right.

Speaking of which, only a wannabe dictator like Donald Trump would call for any player who kneels to be fired.

President Trump on Sunday morning renewed his demand that NFL owners fire or suspend players who kneel during the national anthem in protest, again urging that fans should boycott the sport to force change. …

The tweets continue a three-day crusade by the president to pressure the league to fire players who have taken a knee in an effort to protest police violence against minorities. …

After Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, who had indicated that he would not go to the White House if invited by Trump, the president preemptively disinvited the team in a tweet on Saturday morning.

(Washington Post, September 24, 2017)

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s demand incited expressions of solidarity from athletes and owners in all major sports. Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James led the chorus of athletes with this tweet, which reflects the coarsening and dumbing down of public debate that have attended Trump’s presidency:

U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!

— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft led the chorus of owners with this statement, which reflects the growing alienation of camaraderie between Trump and the CEOs he always boasted would be lining up to work with him to “Make America Great Again”:

I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday. I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. …

There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics.

(CBS Boston, September 24, 2017)

One can hardly blame Kraft, who is an avowed personal friend. After all, Trump’s divisive and misleading tweets are corrupting the positive cultural influence sports have always played in America, much as they are corrupting the positive political influence the presidency has always played.

The public by 66-28 percent says he’s done more to divide than to unite the country, considerably worse than the highest ‘divide’ scores for his two predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, both 55 percent.

(ABC News, September 24, 2017)

Hell, Trump has become so toxic that members of his own presidential councils and advisory groups are abandoning him, like rats from a sinking ship. The abandonment began, ironically enough, with fellow CEOs resigning en masse from his Manufacturing Jobs Council. They did so to protest his failure to categorically condemn white supremacists in the wake of the violence they caused in Charlottesville.

That led to members of his Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum following suit, which led to members of his Committee on the Arts and Humanities, National Infrastructure Advisory Council, Cybersecurity Council, and others all doing the same.

Not to mention honorees like legendary TV producer Norman Leer boycotting the White House reception for this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, which is usually held under the auspices of the president of the United States. Here is how dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade expressed her reason for boycotting:

[I will not be attending the White House reception] in light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our existing leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for.

(NPR, August 19, 2017)

Given all of the above, this was hardly surprising:

National Football League players sat out, knelt and linked arms during pre-game national anthems played across the country and in London on Sunday, hours after US President Donald Trump called on fans to boycott teams that do not discipline players who protest.

In the first few games since Trump stepped up his criticism of NFL players, dozens of players and coaches of teams including the Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins did not stand for the anthem and took a knee, a gesture that began last year as a protest over police treatment of African-Americans and other minorities. …

[I]n Philadelphia, city police officers joined with Eagles and rival New York Giants players and Eagles team owner Jeffrey Lurie to link arms during the anthem in a sign of solidarity.

(Reuters, September 24, 2017)

It would be helpful to recall at this point that Trump whipped tens of thousands of supporters into a frenzy at a rally in Alabama on Friday. Specifically, he derided the (black) NFL players who kneel during the anthem as “sons of bitches,” and called on the owners of teams they play for to fire them. In other words, Trump thinks blacks who kneel during the national anthem are sons of bitches, but whites who march to the tune of racist and anti-Semitic chants are “some very fine people.”

Anyway, here’s to the owners for giving Trump the middle finger. For not a single one heeded his presidential demand to fire players for kneeling. On the contrary, several of them made a point of going down to the field to stand in solidarity with kneeling players.

There was also no sign that fans heeded his clarion call to boycott games. Their refusal to do so, coupled with the owners’ refusal to fire kneeling players, demonstrated in black and white that, when it comes to the lure of professional sports, the players have far more pull than this president.

That said, I resent the way media outlets continually help this reckless “dotard” dominate public debate. Not least because, while focusing on the many crazy things he says, they’re not covering the many important things he’s failing to do. This, despite it being patently obvious that, in almost every case, he says crazy things to detract media attention from his shortcomings.

For example, Trump must feel like P.T. Barnum as he watches the media focus on his silly fight with NFL players over the flag. Because this means they are not covering his serious fight with North Korea over nuclear weapons.

More to the point, they are detracting from his failure to tame North Korea as he famously promised. This failure is exposing Trump as a blowhard who barks like a dog but has no bite. They are also detracting from his failure to replace and repeal Obamacare. This failure is exposing Trump as a hopelessly incompetent leader who can’t even get his own political party to support the primary objective of his presidency.

Still, apropos of the question at issue, it speaks volumes that players knelt not to protest racial injustice but to defy Trump. In fact, but for Trump, the act of players kneeling would have remained just a footnote in the annals of NFL history – along with the player who started it, Colin Kaepernick.

This is why I stand by what I wrote in “Delusional Kaepernick Standing Up by Kneeling Down During National Anthem,” August 30, 2016:


[T]his protest smacks of grandstanding. And it’s only slightly less lazy and misguided than people who think (re)tweeting slogans about injustice is tantamount to fighting for justice.

Of course, Rosa Parks and the ‘Greensboro Four’ famously showed the meaningful way to stand up by sitting down for racial justice. …

The point is that there are many ways Kaepernick can stand up for his cause without showing wanton disrespect for the pride so many people have in the American flag. I urge him to find another way.


Yet I’m all too mindful of the public pressure to support players kneeling during the anthem as a form of protest. Ignorant trolls threw this into stark relief when they forced no less a person than Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to eat her words after she agreed with me as follows:

I think it’s dumb and disrespectful…

I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act.

(Yahoo Global News, October 10, 2016)

Their fascistic intolerance aped the very racism they are purportedly fighting. Unfortunately, the damning irony in forcing her to recant was completely lost on them. But this too is hardly surprising; after all, polls show that most of them think the First Amendment only guarantees freedom of speech to people who agree with them.

This explains why they make no distinction between protesting against white supremacists who hate them and white liberals who have done (and are doing) more for racial justice than they ever will. Just last week, their misguided activism humbled former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Specifically, rabid DACA supporters heckled her at a news conference. They willfully refused to let her explain the progressive steps she and her Democratic colleagues are taking to advance their cause. Their protest made no sense to anyone who knows anything about the politics of this issue or the legislative process required to resolve it.

All the same, there’s no denying that Trump has a galvanizing effect on people protesting against all manner of injustice. But I cannot overstate the orchestrated nature of his provocations. Trust me, this birther-in-chief knew exactly what he was doing when he spewed more hatred at those who protested against white supremacists in Charlottesville than at the white supremacists themselves. It’s all about “the base.”

In any case, it behooves you to appreciate that this latest Trumpian distraction is not about disrespecting the flag. I mean, am I the only one who appreciates the Orwellian absurdity of condemning people for kneeling? When did kneeling, a universal gesture of respect, if not reverence, become one of disrespect? This outrage would at least make a little sense if the players were manspreading on the sidelines during the national anthem.

Never mind that, if it were about disrespecting the flag, those condemning NFL players for kneeling would have a record of condemning people who use it, among other things, to

  • fashion bikinis;
  • adorn food;
  • sell beer; and
  • fashion bandanas.

But they would have reserved their most visceral condemnation for the oxymoronic rednecks who wave it in tandem with their Confederate flag (e.g., at NASCAR events featuring mostly white drivers, which Trump is championing as more patriotic alternatives to NFL games featuring mostly black players).

Of course, ninety-nine percent of these guardians of the flag have no such record. (I allow one percent for military veterans.) Moreover, none of them reeks of more hypocrisy in this respect than this draft-dodging, flag-waving, dog-whistling president of the United States.

Instead, this distraction is about respecting the Constitution, for which Trump continually shows ignorant disrespect and utter contempt. Frankly, it is arguable that, by using the flag to sow divisions among Americans, he is more unpatriotic than the kneeling NFL players he wants to blacklist. Hope springs eternal that his supporters will bear this in mind if he survives to stand for re-election.

Related commentaries:
North Korea Trump looking like chump
Birther nonsense

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