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Philadelphia Eagles players, owner Jeffrey Lurie, center right, Eagles’ President Don Smolenski, second from left, and a Philadelphia police officer, third from left, stand for the national anthem before an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sept. 24, in Philadelphia. Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins raises his fist next to Lurie. Photos: AP/Wide World photos
(L) New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandon Coleman kneels in protest during the National Anthem. (R) Buffalo Bills players take a knee during the National Anthem in protest.
Protecting rights or profits? NFL owners on bended knee
Generally speaking, sports are seen as apolitical. Certainly, professional athletes and team owners have their own individual views and embrace political ideologies that don’t always align, but both parties can usually find a common goal in their desire to compete and win for their organizations, cities and fans.
Since being elected president, it’s become almost a weekly occurrence that Donald Trump says something that is attention grabbing that gets people talking. Mr. Trump has a knack—and a penchant—for getting under people’s skin with his abrasive rhetoric that has driven the wedge in the relationship between Black and White people in America, even deeper.
Since taking a knee during the National Anthem more than a year ago, Colin Kaepernick has consistently been on the radar of Donald Trump, and even more so now that athletes in the NFL, and in other sports leagues, have begun taking a knee in support of the movement started by Mr. Kaepernick.
At a September reelection rally for Alabama Senator Luther Strange, Mr. Trump took another shot at Mr. Kaepernick, and others, in front of an all-White audience that seemed to hang on his every word.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son-of-a-bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired!’ ” Mr. Trump said to rousing applause. “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.”
Buffalo Bills fullback Mike Tolbert leaves the field after working out prior to an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sept. 24, in Orchard Park, N.Y.
The very next day, in a series of tweets, Mr. Trump attacked Stephen Curry, star of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors basketball team. It is customary, after a team wins a championship, to visit the White House and deliver a personalized jersey to the sitting president. However, Mr. Curry has publicly stated on several occasions that because he does not agree with the politics of Donald Trump, causing the president to rescind the invitation via Twitter—the very same day that as a team, the Warriors were planning to discuss whether or not they wanted to make the trip.
Both incidents created an uproar within the sports world—as well as the White House recently calling for the firing of Black female ESPN sports personality Jemele Hill for tweets calling Mr. Trump a White supremacist.
But the president’s Alabama tirade seemed to ignite special, widespread criticism, a call for solidarity with players under the hashtag #TakeTheKnee. Despite outward shows of togetherness, the question must be asked: What are we showing solidarity for? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in a statement regarding Mr. Trump’s comments, called them “divisive.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers, coached by Mike Tomlin, a Black man, stayed in the locker room while the National Anthem was being sung prior to their game against the Chicago Bears. Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, locked arms with his players on the sidelines on Sunday as a show of support. The irony here was 28 of the NFL’s 32 owners, all donated money to the Trump campaign, including Mr. Snyder who gave $1 million initially, and another $100,000 after Mr. Trump won.
DeMaurice Smith, the Black executive director of the NFL Players Union, said, “This union will never back down when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of our players as citizens, as well as their safety as men who compete in a game that exposes them to great risks.”