Trump goes low, yet again, with a skewed idea of patriotism. Uh, Don, free speech is kind of a thing in the United States.
At a late-September rally in Alabama, President Donald Trump used part of his rambling speech to spotlight – and curse – professional athletes who choose not to stand for the national anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’ You know, some owner is going to do that,” Trump said.
“He’s going to say ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner … they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
North Korea has nukes. Healthcare coverage for millions is at risk due to the administration’s attempts to undo the Affordable Care Act.
The United States and some of its possessions have been slammed hard by hurricanes, resulting in loss of life, destruction of property and infrastructure, and the potential for serious public health issues.
So yeah, let’s talk about pro athletes. It’s much easier to whip your base into a frenzy that way.
In case you aren’t keeping up with the not-standing issue, here’s the short form:
A. In 2016, San Francisco player Colin Kaepernick opted to sit out the national anthem to call attention to the systematic oppression of some groups. Kaepernick believes that “the land of the free” idea doesn’t apply to people of color.
B. Many other players (including ones from other sports) have since joined the protest.
C. Not everyone likes that.
Here’s the part that would be really funny if it weren’t so sad: Trump was using his free-speech rights to condemn other peoples’ use of their free-speech rights.
“A lot of work to do”
If Trump thought his comments wouldn’t have an adverse impact, he was – once again! – wrong. The man seems to think that being president means you can say or do anything you like without fear of reprisal. A couple of days later he returned to the topic via Twitter:
“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our flag & country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”
Fans and players (and at least one mom, Teresa Kaepernick, who responded to Trump’s comment by saying “guess that makes me a proud bitch”) jumped onto Twitter to remind 45 that actions have consequences.
Some pointed out the obvious free-speech irony. Others wondered why the president didn’t have better things to do than fixate on football, or said that those who don’t condemn Trump’s divisive rhetoric are part of the problem.
More athletes joined the protest, including players from pro baseball and soccer. Some entire football teams locked arms in a show of solidarity. In a few cases teams didn’t enter the stadiums until after the anthem was played – and in a couple of cases, the anthem singers took a knee at the end of the song.
The Jacksonville Jaguars team had a mixed response: at least a dozen players knelt and the rest locked arms. So did the team’s coaching staff and its owner, Shad Khan, who is of Pakistani descent. Khan released this statement:
“Our team and the National Football League reflects our nation, with diversity coming in many forms – race, faith, our views and our goals. We have a lot of work to do, and we can do it, but the comments by the President make it harder.
“That’s why it was important for us, and personally for me, to show the world that even if we may differ at times, we can and should be united in the effort to become better as people and a nation.”
On Oct. 10, Trump tweeted this not-so-veiled threat: Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!
“A deeply contemptuous view”
The NFL will not require players to stand for the anthem, and on Oct. 18 league commissioner Roger Goodell said that players are not disrespecting the flag by refusing to stand.
However, he also hopes to get overt demonstrations down to zero: “We believe everyone should stand for the national anthem. We think our fans expect us to do that.”
In response, Trump sent out a dismissive tweet: @NFL: Too much talk, not enough action. Stand for the National Anthem.
According to The Washington Post*, it is against the law for a federal government official to attempt to influence a private company’s employment decisions. While that law may or may not apply here, First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams told the newspaper that he could see a legal argument being made if a team fired players specifically because of the president’s statement.
(Fun fact: Kaepernick hasn’t found a team this season. Some people think he’s been blackballed by the National Football League.)
Potential litigation aside, Abrams said that statement reflected “a deeply contemptuous view by the resident of the exercise of First Amendment rights with which he disagrees.”
Mother Jones reported that Trump didn’t stop with yapping at players:
“He criticized the NFL’s concussion rules for ‘ruining the game,’ even though the rules were made to protect players from the debilitating long-term effects of brain injuries. And on Saturday morning, Trump claimed to have withdrawn an invitation to Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry after Curry told reporters he did not want to go.”
The Golden State Warriors were OK with the rescinding of the invite. In an official statement, the team noted that “there is nothing more American than our citizens having the right to express themselves freely on matters important to them.”
Can we get an “amen” on that? If you’re not religious, can we get a heck-yeah? Because free speech isn’t just for people with whom you agree.
Sports fans have the right to send letters to team owners, to walk in front of stadiums with signs protesting the kneeling or not to attend games. (Fat chance on that last one. They want to drink beer and watch grown men bash into one another while chasing a ball.)
Players have rights, too. That includes the right to stand up against Trump’s bluster – even if “standing up” means taking a knee.
*This link will take you to MSN.com, which reprinted the Post article, because we know not everyone has a Washington Post subscription. Incidentally, there are ways to get a free subscription; this article from Time.com gives the details.
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