By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN
Scores of National Football League (NFL) players, along with a few other celebrities from the National Basket Association (NBA) and the film and music industries, including Stevie Wonder, as well as two performers who sang the National Anthem and a 97-year-old World War II veteran, responded to a vicious attack by President Donald Trump against athletes by kneeling during the anthem.
The protest is not new. It was initiated a year ago when Colin Kaepernick, then the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, knelt instead of standing for the anthem and the flag to dramatize his concern over police brutality and racial injustice.
Just a handful of his NFL colleagues joined him and he was dubbed unpatriotic and received death threats.
Then presidential candidate Trump said on Doris Monson’s show in August that “maybe he should find a country that works better for him.” That remark resonated with the candidate’s supporters and did not provoke the backlash that came last week to another Trump comment eight months into his presidency.
Speaking at a political rally in Alabama, Trump swerved off topic to say, “We are proud of our country. We respect our flag. Wouldn’t you love to see one of those NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now?
He’s fired! He’s fired!’”
The outrage was immediate and was heightened by Trump’s announcing that basketball superstar Stephen Curry of the NBA champions Golden State Warriors would not be welcome at the White House.
This time players are not only denouncing the president’s comment but around 200-250 of them – as of Sunday — either refused to stand for the anthem or stayed in their locker rooms or linked hands or wore clothing supporting Kaepernick.
NFL owners have been falling over themselves to criticize Trump, although at least seven of them donated a million dollars each to his inauguration and almost all them are his avowed supporters, some even his friends. The criticism came from owners such as Steve Ross of the Miami Dolphins, whose company, although desperate for a quarterback following Ryan Tannehill’s injury, refused to sign Kaepernick.
These owners have issued statements fully supporting the right of their players to express their opinions and accusing Trump of trying to use sport as a means of dividing the nation.
Really? They are the ones who have refused to hire Kaepernick. And these men, all of them white and many of them billionaires, could not really have thought that, with the known baggage Trump took into the presidential election campaign, he was not capable of using sport as a means of dividing the nation. They must surely have known about the divisiveness which was a hallmark of the Trump campaign and which has continued into his presidency.
If these men were sincere about their outrage and their supposed commitment to letting players express themselves as Kaepernick did, they would be falling over themselves to hire him. Football analysts say he is better than at least six or seven of the quarters now playing.
Still, it is good that the NFL owners, Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL Players Association are speaking with one voice against Trump’s tirade.
This is having the effect of doing what failed to happen last year: calling attention to the point that Kaepernick was making – that the nation must deal with the problems of the hostile relationship which some of law enforcement has with the community and the overall problem of ingrained racism in American culture.
As a case in point, in the 12 months since Kaepernick launched his campaign, police killed 223 African Americans.
It is not enough to just criticize the president for being divisive when the elements of divisiveness have existed for centuries. Trump and his administration are moving rapidly to exacerbate these divisions while at the same time adopting policies that roll back the gains that have been made. This is the real issue, not kneeling for the anthem.
Of course, there is method in the president’s seeming madness. His attack on athletes is shifting national attention from the failure of his presidency to accomplish anything of note except unraveling Barack Obama’s legacy. The most prominent aspect of that legacy is the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare and it was becoming clear that Trump and the Republican-dominated Congress were unlikely to repeal the legislation after seven years of trying.
And then there is the ongoing probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians to influence the outcome of the election.
So why not pick on athletes who take a knee, link arms, stay in their locker rooms as a form of protest against racial injustice? Trying to distract attention from the nation’s weighty problems is a tactic which Trump long ago mastered. Nobody should be so naïve as to fall for it.