This past Sunday night was defined not by football but by the debate of what it means to truly be an American and what values are most important, questioning stances on civil rights and freedom of speech. As a result of Donald Trump’s attack on sports, specifically, the National Football League, athletes across the country took a stand (or knee) on their morals in front of the entire nation.
“There is no doubt this is one of the biggest sports stories and the biggest cultural stories that we have seen in some years,” USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan said.
Within Trump’s line of fire this weekend was NBA Golden State Warrior’s star player Stephen Curry, who, after reportedly hesitating acceptance to a White House invitation, was singled out on the president’s Twitter, as his invitation was rescinded due to his reluctance. The Major League Baseball organization received backlash as the first ever baseball player recently kneeled for the national anthem, replicating the works of many football players, and the National Hockey League was heavily criticized after the Pittsburgh Penguins ended up siding with Donald Trump and continuing to plan on visiting the White House.
Trump’s greatest condemnation, however, was reserved for the National Football League. At a recent rally in Huntsville, Alabama on Friday, the president urged the NFL teams’ owners to terminate athletes’ careers for peacefully protesting the national anthem during a football game on behalf of the flag.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b*tch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump rattled off during his speech. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
The controversy first started when Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, made a statement by kneeling during the pregame national anthem ceremony at a football game last season, utilizing his platform to emphasize racial inequality and police brutality against African Americans in the U.S. He told the media that “there are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” and that he would not pledge allegiance to a flag that represents oppresses black people and people of color.
Following Kaepernick’s kneel, the country erupted into conflict: many, especially on the right side of the political spectrum, were outraged and considered his exercising of free speech as an insult and disgrace to the flag and to those who fought for the U.S. previously in war.
However, as CNN writer Juana Summers highlights, it is impossible for black people athletes to leave politics off the field.
“In Colin Kaepernick’s America, simply walking down the street while black can be a liability that costs you your life. It is an America where scores of demonstrators, most recently in St. Louis, Missouri, have taken to the streets to protest the killings of black men by white police officers — and in many cases, acquittals of the officers in question,” Summers said. “In his America, athletes that voice opinions he disagrees with should lose their jobs for speaking out.”
Ironically, according to Donald Trump, black athletes who reciprocate the exercising of free speech that is the basis of the country are “sons of b*tches,” but those who led or partook in the Charlottesville riots on behalf of white supremacy and Nazism are “fine people.”
In response to Trump’s scorn towards the NFL, players and coaches from all different teams united under resistance, kneeling or locking arms during the national anthem, with some teams going as far as opting out of the ceremony itself, remaining in the locker room.
“Inside these lines, we can bring out the best in each other and live united,” the official National Football League said on Twitter on Sunday.
Donald Trump could have listened to the message that the football players were advocating for, but instead, he chooses ignorance. And until he decides to hear out his people and take action against racial injustice, the fight for equality will persist.
It has to.