AL JAZEERA – Over the last week, US President Donald Trump lashed out at players who have been taking a knee during the customary national anthem at NFL games.
While speaking in the US state of Alabama on September 22, Trump decried the protests, calling for National Football League (NFL) owners to fire “any son of a b****” who “disrespects our flag”.
The following day, many NFL players knelt during the national anthem, which is known as the “Star-Spangled Banner”.
Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens and Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were among those who knelt last Sunday.
Others locked arms in a show of solidarity and unity, while some avoided the ceremonies altogether by remaining in the locker rooms until they concluded.
An estimated 200 people participated in some form of protest last Sunday, prompting Trump to post a series of tweets that criticised those who knelt and called on the NFL to create policies that require players to stand during the anthem.
The protests – known as #TakeAKnee on social media – were started by Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. During a preseason game in 2016, Kaepernick sat down during the national anthem rather than stand.
In an interview after the game, Kaepernick explained that he chose to sit in protest of the ongoing police killings of people of colour, particularly black Americans.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” he said. “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.”
Kaepernick’s protests prompted both widespread solidarity and public outrage. While many celebrated his decision, others deemed him a “traitor” and accused him of dishonouring the country.
The protests spread throughout the NFL, as well as to other sports, including professional basketball and baseball.
Al Jazeera has broken down a handful of the most interesting and compelling analyses of Trump’s comments about the NFL protests.
At The Root, Michael Harriot argues that the anger from right-wing Americans, among them Trump, was not about the national anthem at all.
Harriot maintains that the outrage is actually rooted in a lack of understanding regarding protests, the potential loss of money and power for the sports industry and an inability to accept black Americans fighting back against institutional racism and discrimination.
The outrage over Kaepernick from unmelanated America was about a lot of things. It was about the dog-whistle of ‘patriotism’ and ‘America first.’ It was about America’s continuing love for the game of ‘See No Racism, Hear No Racism.’ It was about riling up the flag-wavers as a force to oppose the habitual line steppers.But it was never about the anthem.
Michael Harriot, The Root
Writing at The Intercept, columnist Shaun King argues that Trump is attempting to divert attention from the ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico, which left millions without electricity, by attacking protesting NFL players in the same way the league’s wealthy executives already have been.
He points to Kaepernick’s ostracisation by the NFL and his inability to be hired by any team. King says the NFL owners have effectively banned Kaepernick over his protests, and argued that they are hypocrites for joining the protesting athletes after Trump’s comments last week.
Never mind that Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, the two best quarterbacks in the game, say Kaepernick should be in the league. Never mind the fact that some teams are still winless with quarterbacks who are struggling through every single quarter. Before Trump said a single word in Alabama, those teams had already shut Kaepernick out.
Shaun King , The Intercept,
Treva Lindsey, writing at Cosmopolitan, argues that Trump’s attack on protesting athletes has been much more forceful than his disavowals of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last month. After a participant of the white supremacist rally allegedly drove his car into a crowd and killed an anti-racist activist, Trump was later criticised for what many viewed as an unconvincing condemnation of the far right.
The protests started by Kaepernick were about pushing for equity, equality and justice in American society, while the Charlottesville rally promoted white supremacy and racism, Lindsey writes, arguing that Trump was more offended by the former than the latter.
By attacking black protestors more forcefully than he did white supremacists or neo-Nazis, Trump only reinforces what Kaepnernick has been protesting all this time – the legacy and reality of racism in this country. And the president’s insistence that the issue of kneeling had nothing to do with race further illustrates that he doesn’t get it. #TakeAKnee pushes for a nation in which life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all is a reality and not a lofty ideal crafted by white slaveholding men. And of course, it is impossible to not note the hypocrisy of people like Trump who demonise those kneeling as unpatriotic but promote the slogan ‘Make America Great Again,’ an assertion that America is not already great.
Treva Lindsey, Cosmopolitan
Michael Starr Hopkins, writing at The Hill, maintains that Trump is responsible for politicising American football in a populist attempt to avoid conversations about his policies.
Hopkins says that the protests have sparked a necessary public conversation about militarised policing and police brutality in African American communities, which is a subject Trump wants to suppress.
The president said nothing of the constitutional protections that afforded the numerous football players the constitutional right to kneel down in protest. Trump said nothing of the civil rights pioneers like Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali or Rosa Parks, whose silent protest led to the same gains that Kaepernick and his fellow protesters intend to expound upon. Instead, Trump used our soldiers, who have bravely given their lives and had their caskets draped with the American flag, as a political prop.
Michael Starr Hopkins, The Hill
Eric Reid, a fellow NFL player and former teammate of Kaepernick, explains in the New York Times why he joined Kaepernick in his protest against police brutality.
Reid says that he and Kaepernick wanted to use their platforms as professional athletes to a shine light on the crisis of police brutality in communities of colour and “speak for those who are voiceless”.
I refuse to be one of those people who watches injustices yet does nothing. I want to be a man my children and children’s children can be proud of, someone who faced adversity and tried to make a positive impact on the world, a person who, 50 years from now, is remembered for standing for what was right, even though it was not the popular or easy choice.
Eric Reid, The New York Times
Photo credit: PRey Del Rio/Getty Images
Caption: Members of the Detroit Lions take a knee during the singing of the national anthem