In a demonstration started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, players in the NFL have been kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African American and other minority communities. Although peaceful, these demonstrations were met with a harsh and bigoted response from President Donald Trump.
On Sept. 22, at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, the president criticized NFL players who choose to kneel during the national anthem, calling for NFL owners to chastise their players who, “disrespect the flag,” in saying,“Get that son of a b— off the field right now. Out! He’s fired.”
With these comments, Trump has demonstrated he doesn’t care to put a stop to police brutality. In fact, this past July, during a speech on law and order, Trump said he wished law enforcement was “rough” on those they unjustly arrested. Yet his condemnation of the white nationalists who marched in the name of hatred and white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia, where three people were killed and dozens of others were injured, was nonexistent.
Throughout the aftermath of the demonstrations that took place in Charlottesville, Americans patiently waited for a response by Trump to the blatant displays of hatred and racism by members of the white nationalists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. But, at a time when the country needed a leader to stand up for those who have been oppressed, we heard no statement of condemnation. At a press conference where he was expected to denounce white supremacists and all of their supporting groups, Trump called some of them “very fine people” and equivocated their actions with those who had protested against hate in Charlottesville.
The paradox is clear: Trump supports the First Amendment rights of Charlottesville white nationalists while condemning that right when given to African American football players.
There’s no other way to look at it. Trump views the NFL protests as a sign of hatred toward the American flag and the behavior of white nationalists who protested in Charlottesville as honoring it. It seems that Trump is not the “president for all Americans,” he claimed to be.
When the protests began, Colin Kaepernick received criticism from many more people than just the president — who believed his actions were unpatriotic. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg even called his actions, “dumb and disrespectful.” In light of the negative response, Kaepernick continued to protest and wouldn’t let his detractors stop him from trying to spread his message. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed … I know that I stood up for what is right.”
Eric Reid, current San Francisco 49ers safety, who joined Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem, has come out in support of his former teammate and his protest, saying, “It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.”
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has done the same as Reid and has also urged people to start a dialogue around race relations in the United States, saying, “This is about unity and love … and starting a conversation around something that may be a little bit uncomfortable for people.”
Two days after Trump’s initial comments, several members and owners from each of the 32 NFL teams acted in solidarity — kneeling, locking arms or demonstrating otherwise — during the national anthem. This was a strong display of unity between the NFL and its players telling the president that, despite heavy criticism, they won’t stand for being silenced and will fight to protect their First Amendment rights.
The NFL protests are anything but hatred toward our country. The white nationalists’ protests were fueled by hatred toward minorities — thousands of men marching in the name of white supremacy. These players don’t hate the flag, and they don’t hate America. These players are exercising their right to speak out against the systemic injustice permitted by the nation for which the flag stands. These professional athletes are using their platform to bring light to the issue of racial injustice that seems to be brushed under the rug, perhaps because it’s still a topic that’s uncomfortable for people to talk about. Still, it’s a conversation that needs to be had. These athletes, despite Trump’s comments about them, love this country and are protesting because they recognize there’s room for improvement for racial equality, especially for African American citizens, within the United States.
It’s clear that Trump doesn’t grasp the importance of demonstrating in protest of police brutality or of empathizing with other marginalized groups within the country. I don’t expect this change to happen overnight, nor do I think it’ll happen under the current administration. Although some, such as Trump, are currently unwilling to approach these issues with unbiased understanding, marginalized groups won’t stand by while the government strips them of their civil liberties.