President Trump took to Twitter Friday morning to comment on new protests Thursday by NFL players before the start of pre-season games, when a few players knelt or raised their fists during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Instead of being the beautiful act of a few standing up against oppression to give voice to many, the actions of these players have become little more than fuel for both sides of a divisive debate.
The president tweeted: “The NFL players are at it again - taking a knee when they should be standing proudly for the National Anthem. Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their ‘outrage’ at something that most of them are unable to define. They make a fortune doing what they love......”
And then in a second tweet President Trump wrote: “Be happy, be cool! A football game, that fans are paying soooo much money to watch and enjoy, is no place to protest. Most of that money goes to the players anyway. Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!”
A check of social media accounts of the NFL players who opted to protest during the anthem Thursday failed to provide answers regarding why they are protesting or what they specifically want to change. Perhaps they are being careful and fear being suspended for a tweet. If so, at least tell us that much. That would be a type of oppression.
There is a lot of confusion over the issue of what these protests are about. When they began in 2016 players said they were protesting racial injustice and police brutality.
But by protesting during the playing of our anthem and then failing to tell us specifically what they believe needs to change, these players aren’t helping us define the problems so we can solve them.
Our national anthem represents what’s best about America. It was written from a ship on September 14, 1814 by a then 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key. He wrote its powerful lines after witnessing the bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry by British ships during the War of 1812.
The War of 1812 is largely forgotten now, but historically it was basically Part Two of the American Revolution. It was a war for the right of America to exist and trade freely. It was a war for freedom.
Our national anthem celebrates our freedom. Among the lyrics:
“O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
Many people have bled and died for the freedom espoused in this beautiful poem that became our national anthem, so it’s easy to understand why these NFL protests are sparking such a backlash from so many Americans.
It is also disappointing that the NFL owners tried to have it both ways with regards to this issue for so long and are still uncertain about what to do.
What is really disappointing, though, is that this entire debate has split along lines of patriotism versus the right to protest. That’s a false narrative many in the media have fomented and allowed to grow because they are reluctant to do honest reporting on this important issue.
When I have written about this before on this opinion page I’ve had many readers respond by saying right on, this shouldn’t be about our flag. These NFL players are millionaires. They have huge platforms. They aren’t being silenced.
The players can go TV and radio, give speeches and take other actions to point out the flaws they see still existing in America. If they did that they just might help all of us continue to make America all we hope it can be.
Others have responded by saying they just want to support brave players for taking a stand to point out systemic racism and other issues.
After a small number of NFL players knelt or raised their fists during the anthem Thursday, Colin Kaepernick – who started the protests two years ago when he was as a member of the San Francisco 49ers – tweeted: “My brother @kstills continued his protest of systemic oppression tonight by taking a knee. Albert Wilson @iThinkIsee12 joined him in protest. Stay strong brothers!”
As money is also speech, why don’t these players get together to donate some of their millions to charities targeting the problems they are concerned about? This way we could at least define what they want by closely looking at what they are doing with their money.
Kaepernick says players are protesting“systemic oppression.” OK, but please give us some specifics. A lot of people, including me, would like some details about this “systemic oppression” and would like to hear proposals on how to end it.
This is what happened during the Civil Rights Era, when Martin Luther King and many other African-Americans and their supporters of other races protested against discriminatory laws and policies and successfully got those laws and policies changed. America is a better place because of their hard work and dedication.
Do the players want our nation to spend more money on education of low-income kids, who are disproportionately African-American? Do they want new jobs programs to help the chronically unemployed? Do they want new rules for police departments to combat what they call “police brutality?” Do they want reforms in our criminal justice system?
I could ask many more serious questions – and I think all Americans would welcome hearing answers from players that we could discuss as a nation and that candidates running for political office could debate.
What is clear is that we won’t find solutions and come together when our focus is on a controversy over respect for the flag, love of country and honoring members of the military and veterans. None of that is even what the players say they want their protest to be about.