There are two parts of Trump’s speech in Alabama which I’m going to address. I’m not going to do it in the order you may think, either. First, here are the relevant pieces of what he said with some emphasis by me.
“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. He’s FIRED!’ You know, some owner is gonna 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 this country.”
“Today if you hit too hard—15 yards! Throw him out of the game! They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys, just really, beautiful tackle. Boom, 15 yards! The referee gets on television—his wife is sitting at home, she’s so proud of him. They’re ruining the game! They’re ruining the game. That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game.”
“But do you know what’s hurting the game more than that? When people like yourselves turn on the television and you see those players taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem. The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway.”
Item #1: It’s not the same game anymore, anyway.
The number 1 issue facing the NFL today is CTE, brain damage from too many head injuries. Here’s a list of former players who have suffered from it. Based on autopsies, it includes greats like Ken Stabler, Earl Morrall, Bubba Smith, and Junior Seau. On Friday, Aaron Hernandez’s autopsy results were released and he suffered from one of the more severe forms of CTE. For those who don’t remember, he was a tight end on the Patriots who was convicted of killing two men and committed suicide in prison. In fact, 99% of players who’ve donated their brains post-mortem were found to have CTE.
Worker safety is supposed to be treated seriously, especially when there’s clinical results proving issues. Can you imagine a major study outlining black lung and the president telling the miners to get back in there because coal production isn’t what it used to be? No? Trump personally insulted every current, past, and future football player when he told them they were gladiators who should amuse us and not be concerned with their own health or growing old with their families. Are you not entertained?
Issue #2: The protest itself.
Much is being made of the protest being an affront to the military. I understand where that may come from. What I do know is that I haven’t read any negative statement by any protester about our armed forces. What the protesters are saying is that they’re tired of “Liberty and justice for all” not being about them. They’re sick of seeing the Eric Garlands, Tamir Rices, Sandra Blands, Freddie Grays, and the like dying on camera with no justice. Minimal convictions and even minimal charges pressed.
This week there have been riots in St. Louis after the acquittal of an officer who’d killed a black man after a car chase. The officer was carrying a personal AK-47 which was unauthorized and during the chase was recoded by his car’s camera saying “I’m going to kill this mother*cker, don’t you know it.” After the chase, he shot the driver several times. Then he went back to his police car, rustled through a duffel bag, and sat in the dead man’s car. All of this is on video. An unloaded gun was found in the car which only had the officer’s DNA on it – not that of the man he killed. And he walked.
Rather than try to calm the situation, Trump called potential peaceful protesters “sons of bitches”. He said that if they knelt, they should be fired. The players were protesting a lack of justice and their ability to use their constitutionally guaranteed rights to speak up for a perceived injustice.
So let’s forget for a moment that the full lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner actually reference slaves. We’ve got players who were told that they’re gladiators who should sacrifice their health for our entertainment and that they’re sons of bitches if they have opinions on social matters. Shut up, we want to see you literally beat each other senseless. You’re not human, you’re entertainment. By the president. I’m not stretching here, this is what he did.
They aren’t protesting against the military. They’re saying that the country isn’t treating them with the same rights and privileges as other citizens. And I don’t think for a second that the president doesn’t know this. He’s taking a powder keg situation and giving the NFL athletes – and other leagues’ players – no other option than to protest. What choice do they have? The president of our nation doesn’t respect them and the flag doesn’t represent freedom to many of them.
The flag isn’t a symbol of the military. It’s a symbol of what we stand for as a nation. What we stand for should be worth cherishing and protecting. As a society, we hold it dear. The military is a key part of that protection, as is its commander in chief. But it’s not simply the flag we want protected, it’s those values and how they apply to the republic for which it stands. If we’re to be one nation indivisible, we cannot have a leader who deliberately divides us. This isn’t about whether the military gets respect. It’s whether those they fight for are respected – and we deserve better than to be pitted against one another.
Let’s be honest. Houston and Florida have been hit hard by major hurricanes and there are more storms underway. Puerto Rico, a US territory, is devastated by one of them. We’re in a war of words with North Korea, Iran, China, and more. There’s healthcare bills and a Russia scandal. In the face of all this, we see the following statement by David Duke at a KKK/neo-Nazi/alt-right rally and then get a speech and 15+ tweets lambasting peaceful protests. The priority at the White House isn’t making our country great, it’s dividing us and keeping us from being great together.