One of the biggest applause lines of President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address came when he mentioned the importance of standing for the national anthem, a remark that served as a subtle jab at NFL players protesting racial injustice and police brutality.
The remarks on the anthem this evening came when Trump spoke about Preston Sharp, a 12-year-old boy from Redding, California, who organized a campaign to place flags on the graves of some 40,000 veterans after noticing that many veterans’ graves were not marked with flags on Veterans Day. Sharp is a guest of first lady Melania Trump at the State of the Union.
Trump praised Sharp for his actions. “Young patriots like Preston teach all of us about our civic duty as Americans,” the president said. “Preston’s reverence for those who have served our nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.”
That last line is a clear reference to the NFL protests that have grown in prominence over the past two NFL seasons after Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, first sat during the national anthem in the summer of 2016. His protests later changed to taking a knee during the anthem. The protest that he started to call attention to police brutality and injustice against communities of color has grown considerably over the past year, with other athletes taking a knee during the national anthem.
In recent months, Trump has been highly critical of NFL players who have continued Kaepernick’s protest, calling for them to be fired for their actions, referring to them as “sons of bitches” during a campaign event last fall, and often implying that those kneeling during the anthem aren’t patriotic. It’s just one of many fights Trump has picked with black public figures over the past year.