Trump: If You Don’t Stand For The Anthem, Maybe You Should Leave The Country
President Trump's response to the N.F.L.'s new National Anthem policy is as narrow-minded and divisive as you'd expected it to be.
Responding for the first time publicly about the decision by the National Football League regarding whether players will be required to stand for the National Anthem in the upcoming season, President Trump responded just about as you’d expect him to:
President Donald Trump praised the NFL this week for its new rule requiring players on the field to stand for the national anthem, adding that perhaps those who protest during the anthem “shouldn’t be in the country.”
“I think that’s good. I don’t think people should be staying in locker rooms, but still, I think it’s good,” the president told Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” in an interview that was taped Wednesday and aired Thursday morning. “You have to stand, proudly, for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing. You shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. And the NFL owners did the right thing, if that’s what they’ve done.”
Trump turned the issue of players protesting during the anthem into a nationwide controversy last fall at an Alabama rally for then-Sen. Luther Strange, when he collectively called players who kneel during the anthem a “son of a bitch” and said they should be removed from the NFL.
Despite transforming the issue from a sports-page discussion to a new culture-war front, Trump said Wednesday that it was pressure from Americans, not just him, who forced the NFL to adopt its new policy.
“I think the people pushed it forward. This was not me. I brought it out. I think the people pushed it forward. This country’s very smart. We have very smart people,” the president said. “And, you know, that’s something ideally could have been taken care of when it first started. It would have been a lot easier. But if they did that, they’re doing the right thing.”
Here’s the video of Trump’s remarks:
INSERT FOX NEWS TWEET
“You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem. You shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country…the NFL owners did the right thing” -President @realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/bt36t4EX5u
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) May 24, 2018
It would be easy to dismiss Trump’s comments that people who decline to stand for the anthem “shouldn’t be in the country” as hyperbole, but given the extent to which the President has exploited this issue mainly as a way to rile up his base, it seems clear that there’s more to it than that. No, that doesn’t mean that the President is going to try to deport people who decline to stand for the National Anthem, whether it’s at a football game or in some other forum. It was, after all, at a campaign speech in Alabama last year that Trump attacked players who knelt during the Anthem, referred to the players as “sons of bitches” and called on the league and/or the teams to fire or otherwise discipline players who don’t stand for the Anthem. In response, the league, the NFL Players Association, and pretty much all the team owners voiced support for the protesting players. Additionally, the weeks immediately after the President’s statement saw the kneeling protest expand as players of all races either knelt during the Anthem or engaged in some other form of showing solidarity 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. Given the fact that the 2017 N.F.L. season will be starting around the same time as the campaign season hits high gear for the midterms, it’s likely that the President will revisit this issue in September if not earlier.
If the immediate reaction to the new policy is any indication, it seems clear that the issue is not going to go away. New York Jets CEO and Chief Executive Christopher Johnson, the brother of Woody Johnson, who currently serves as American Ambassador to the United Kingdom, said late yesterday for example that he will pay for any fines imposed if any of his players choose to kneel or otherwise stage some sort of on-field protest during the Anthem and that his players would not be sanctioned by the team for any such protest. Additionally, Philadephia Eagles Safety Malcolm Jenkins, who has been outspoken on this and other social justice issues facing the African-American community, issued a statement via his Twitter account said that he would not let the league’s decision to silence him and other players have issued similar statements. Additionally, other players are reportedly discussing other forms of protest that they could engage in to express both their support for players who choose to kneel and to protest the league’s policy.
The New York Times Editorial Board, meanwhile, admonished the N.F.L. for caving to the President on what is really nothing more than a silly culture war issue that the President is using to exploit racial division and hyper-patriotism:
Rather than show a little backbone themselves and support the right of athletes to protest peacefully, the league capitulated to a president who relishes demonizing black athletes. The owners voted Wednesday to fine teams whose players do not stand for the national anthem while they are on the field.
Let us hope that in keeping with the league’s pinched view of patriotism, the players choose to honor the letter but not the spirit of this insulting ban. It might be amusing, for example, to see the owners tied in knots by players who choose to abide by the injunction to “stand and show respect” — while holding black-gloved fists in the air. Or who choose to stand — while holding signs protesting police brutality. We look forward to many more meetings of fatootsed gazillionaires conducting many more votes on petty rules to ban creative new forms of player protest.
The president, smelling an issue sure to fire up his base, pounced. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these N.F.L. 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 at a political rally in September.
That riled up players, owners and fans on both sides of the question. Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence continued to stir outrage. More players knelt. More conservatives became incensed and threatened to boycott the league.
The fury that Mr. Trump ignited was so troubling that it brought players and team owners together in a meeting last October to discuss it.
“The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don’t feel is in the best interests of America,” Robert Kraft, the Patriots owner and a Trump supporter, said of the kneeling. “It’s divisive, and it’s horrible.”
The Times is, of course, absolutely correct here. As I noted yesterday, while the kneeling protests that had started in 2016 continued into the 2017 season, they had largely faded from public attention and were not at all disruptive of the game itself. Indeed, as many people have remarked, kneeling is arguably even more respectful than standing in any case. All of that changed after Trump threw gasoline on the fire and lit the match. In response to Trump’s remarks, the league, the NFL Players Association, and nearly all the team owners, many of whom were Trump supporters in the election, voiced support for the protesting players. Additionally, the reaction to the President’s statement had the seemingly paradoxical effect of seeing the kneeling protest expand as players of all races either knelt during the Anthem or engaged in some other form of showing solidarity with those players who chose to do so. It was during this period that Vice-President Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game after some players knelt during the Anthem. It was obvious at the time that this was a pre-planned stunt, and that Pence went to the game fully intending to walk out while he knew reporters were following him. 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.
The league should have left it at that, or it should have changed the rule to where it stood before 2006 when the teams did not take the field until after the Anthem had been sung and shortly before the traditional pre-game coin toss. If that’s not acceptable, then they should just end the entire silly practice of playing the National Anthem before a game, but given how long-standing that tradition is it seems unlikely that we’ll see that day at any point in the near future. Instead, they have chosen to create more controversy and to give the President exactly what he wants, more fodder to fire up his base and stoke racial tensions right before the election. This isn’t going to end well.