In response to the NFL’s rule changes and ongoing national anthem protests, President Donald Trump openly spoke out against the protesters on Friday Sept. 22, calling on the owners of the teams to fire those who kneel on the field during the national anthem.
He stated “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!’ You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s gonna say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’re friends of mine, many of them. They don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in the country.”
Following his inflammatory comments and subsequent tweet that instructed his followers to boycott the league, protests spread throughout the NFL. Roughly 180 players from different NFL teams across the country did not stand during the national anthem and even some owners, including Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys) and Shad Khan (Jacksonville Jaguars), kneeled or stood on the field in solidarity with their players prior to or during the national anthem. This movement of refusing to stand during the national anthem can be traced back to one player: Colin Kaepernick.
In August of last year, Kaepernick made national headlines when he sat during the 49ers third preseason game. Sparking a national cultural movement, all eyes turned to Kaepernick as he told the media after the game that he sat because of the ongoing national issues with police brutality and the oppression of people of color.
Despite Kaepernick’s current inability to continue his own form of protest, as he is currently not under contract with any NFL team, players in the NFL and other leagues have continued to kneel and protest those issues through similar methods. As a result, Trump’s harsh comments were not well received by many. As Trump called out these players, both sides of the political aisle began voicing their opinions. Many of those on the left condemned the president for reinstating the oppression these players are protesting against and many of those on the right celebrated the president for standing up for those law enforcement officials.
But one opinion was universal. As addressed in an article by Justin Levin published in the Washington Post on Sept. 26, “many are lamenting how the wall that once separated politics from professional sports has collapsed.”
Yet as the article addresses, the NFL has never been apolitical. In the 1960s, in order to garner support for the Vietnam War, Pete Rozelle mandated that players stand upright during the anthem. The act of players standing during the anthem originated from a political movement during a similarly tense political time.
As the Editorial Board of the Old Gold & Black, we respect the players’ right to their personal views and fully support their right to their freedom of speech and peaceful protest. Yet as the Washington Post article points out, we cannot conflate this issue to the political environment we have now and the division of support that exists for our President. The purpose of this protest rests in standing up against police brutality. We can’t let the harsh words of our President distract us from this cause.