Trump Dismisses Racial Injustice Concerns Of Kneeling N.F.L. Players
In a new interview, the President says that he doesn't believe that N.F.L. players who kneel during the National Anthem have a real issue.
Wading yet again into the issue of kneeling protests during the National Anthem by N.F.L. players, President Trump said on Friday that he didn’t believe that the issue that they say they are protesting is a real issue:
In a spontaneous interview on Friday with Fox News on the White House lawn, President Donald Trump said NFL athletes “shouldn’t get the politics involved,” and added that no players have contacted him after he invited them to submit recommendations for presidential pardons.
“They’re saying people are aggrieved. OK. Let me know about it. I’ll look at it. If they’re aggrieved, I’ll pardon them. I’ll get them out,” Trump said. ”Maybe they’ve called the staff. But I have not personally heard from one. Because I don’t know if it’s a real issue. I don’t think it’s a real issue.”
Trump also reiterated his long-standing belief that NFL players should stand during the pregame rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. He has criticized players who have kneeled as unpatriotic and disrespectful to military members, even as players have described the gesture as a means of protesting police brutality and systemic issues of racial inequality.
“They’re all saying, ‘Oh, it has nothing to do with the flag, it’s the way we’ve been treated,'” Trump said earlier in the interview. ”In the meantime, they’re making $15 million a year. Look, I’m all for the athletes. I think it’s great. I love athletics. I love sports. But they shouldn’t get the politics involved.”
Here’s the video:
TRUMP on professional athletes kneeling for the anthem: "They're all saying, 'oh, it has nothing to do with the flag, it's the way we've been treated.' In the meantime, they're making $15,000,000 a year … they shouldn't get the politics involved." pic.twitter.com/ooBDR1eU1u
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) June 15, 2018
"I told the @NFL players… let me know about it, I'll look at it. If they're aggrieved, I will pardon them. I'll get them out."
— Fox News (@FoxNews) June 15, 2018
— CNN (@CNN) June 15, 2018
This all began, of course, during the 2016 N.F.L. season when San Francisco Quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the National Anthem. While he didn’t offer an explanation for the action at first, Kaepernick later stated that the decision to kneel was intended to protest racism, police brutality, and the treatment of African-American men by police across the country, an issue that had come to the forefront in the wake of the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, the Eric Garner case in New York City, and other cases that rose to public attention from around the country. Kaepernick was joined by a handful of other players during the 2016 season, but the issue had largely disappeared from headlines weeks after it started and the season proceeded forward without significant controversy.
With the return of football last fall, the issue revived thanks to some sporadic cases of other players kneeling, although Kaepernick was not among them due to the fact that he had been released by the 49erss and still has not been signed by any other team notwithstanding the fact that several teams are clearly in need of at least a backup Quarterback. It was at this point that the President got involved during a campaign speech in Alabama in September of last year during which Trump went after the players who were kneeling during the Anthem, calling them “sons of bitches” and calling on the league and/or the teams to fire or otherwise discipline players who don’t stand for the Anthem.
In response to this and the media storm it helped to create, the league, the NFL Players Association, and pretty much all the team owners voiced support for the protesting players. Indeed, in the weeks after the President’s speech, the protests expanded to a level that they had not seen before, with players from across the league either taking a knee during the Anthem or engaging in some other form as a way to show solidary with those players who chose to do so. It was during this period that Vice-President Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game when some players knelt during the Anthem in what was obviously a staged photo opportunity by the White House to further stir the pot. Several weeks later, the league announced that it would not discipline players who continued to kneel during the Anthem, and polling in both September and October showed that most Americans opposed the position taken by the President.
In April, though, the controversy was revived when the N.F.L. announced a rule change stating that it would fine teams if any players declined to stand while on the field during the National Anthem, but left open the option that teams or individual players could choose to stay off the field during the Anthem. President Trump responded to this rule change by suggesting that people who don’t stand during the Anthem should ‘leave the country,” and with this morning’s Tweets, he makes it clear that he does not consider the option of staying off the field to be acceptable. Most recently, the controversy was fed yet again when the President revoked the invitation of the Philadelphia Eagles to visit the White House largely because a significant number of players announced that they would not be attending. Trump sought to make the issue about the Anthem protests, though, even though no member of the Eagles had taken a knee during the National Anthem during the 2017 season.
Previously, the President has always claimed, falsely, that the players were deliberately showing disrespect to the flag and the military, refusing to even acknowledge that they were clearly stating the reasons why they were engaging in what is undeniably a peaceful, respectful form of protest. More recently, Trump stated that if the players were concerned about individual cases they should bring them to his attention and suggested he might use his pardon and clemency powers to deal with it. This comment, though, ignores the reality of what the players are protesting. Certainly, part of the issue is the fact that there are people of color sitting in jails throughout the country based on charges clearly associated with their race, and this is part of what the players are protesting. Their cause, though, goes far beyond that and includes issues such as police shootings and the unequal treatment of African-Americans in general and African-American men specifically by law enforcement. These are issues that the right generally, and the Trump Administration particularly, has long downplayed and there’s no indication at all that this is going to change anytime soon. For that reason, Trump’s previous comments about being open to hearing from the players was clearly empty rhetoric, and this latest comment makes that clear.
The real reason for Trump to continue to press this issue even during the off-season is, of course rather obvious. While polling continues to show that most Americans do not support the President on the Anthem issue, that same polling shows that Republicans and conservatives continue to strongly support the President on this issue. Because of this, it’s clear that Trump intends to keep bringing this issue up between now and November because it riles up his hyperpatriotic base, the large majority of whom are, of course, white. This is just another example of that.