Dozens of NFL players knelt or sat during the national anthem Sunday in righteous reaction to President’s Trump’s profane comments about how owners should fire the SOBs who dare exercise their constitutional rights.
The players’ defiance was well earned, but Trump’s insult — under Friday night klieg lights in Alabama — was deeper and more contemptuous than merely calling for their jobs or calling them names. He also mocked rules meant to make them marginally more safe in a violent game.
“You hit too hard — 15 yards,” Trump said, mentioning he’d recently watched a couple of minutes of an NFL game. “Two guys, just a really beautiful tackle” — and here he bumped his tiny fists together — “boom, 15 yards.”
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So it isn’t just that Trump doesn’t want to hear what players think. He doesn’t care if they can think at all, years from now.
And it’s not the first time he’s expressed this sort of callousness. On the campaign trail in 2016, he sneered: “Concussions — ‘uh-oh, got a little ding on the head?’ ”
This invective was aimed at NFL players, but Trump managed to affront athletes everywhere last year when he insisted that to brag about sexual assault was merely locker-room talk. NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said on Monday that players who protest inequality are the ones who speak real locker-room talk.
Trump once owned the New Jersey Generals in the long-since-folded USFL. He tried to buy the Buffalo Bills a few years ago. He said of NFL owners during that speech in Alabama: “They’re friends of mine, many of them.” True enough, several made donations to his inaugural committee. But NFL owners who have billions in common with the plutocrat president aren’t feeling so friendly since Friday.
Trump insists his barbs have nothing to do with race. Saying so doesn’t make it so.
The evidence suggests all this is very much about race. The protests are about racial disparities in criminal and social justice. The protesters are mostly African American men in a mostly African American league. And Trump spoke to a mostly white crowd in Alabama after he’d suggested a false equivalence last month between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va.
When Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, knelt during anthems last season it was in the tradition of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, American sprinters who raised their fists as the anthem played during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. Today their statues stand in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, just blocks from the White House.