For most fans, the upcoming NFL season means a few months of enjoying some football. But for President Donald Trump, it’s an opportunity to reignite the culture wars by mischaracterizing the national anthem protests.
During this week’s preseason games, several NFL players from different teams, including the Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles, and Seattle Seahawks, protested during the national anthem by refusing to come out to the field as it played, raising their fists, or kneeling. On Friday morning, Trump reacted to the players with another round of tweets.
The NFL players are at it again - taking a knee when they should be standing proudly for the National Anthem. Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their “outrage” at something that most of them are unable to define. They make a fortune doing what they love......— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 10, 2018
.....Be happy, be cool! A football game, that fans are paying soooo much money to watch and enjoy, is no place to protest. Most of that money goes to the players anyway. Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 10, 2018
The tweets are nothing new for Trump. Last year, he dedicated a bulk of his social media posts to the NFL demonstrations, repeatedly decrying the players and suggesting that their protests were disrespecting the military, flag, and country. The protests are in reality about police brutality and racism.
Trump still seems very confused about the protests, claiming in his latest tweets that the players protesting “wanted to show their ‘outrage’ at something most of them are unable to define.” But, in fact, NFL players have had no trouble defining what their protests are about from the very start.
Former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who launched the protests, clearly articulated their purpose when they began: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Trump, however, has latched onto the idea that the protests have “nothing to do with race” and are “about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem,” just because they occur as the national anthem plays.
Outside commentators have pointed out how absurd this is. Fox Sports 1 and First Things First host Nick Wright noted: “When people march, they are not protesting traffic. The players have been uniform that they are using the anthem as a vehicle to protest inequality, police brutality, and racial injustice. And this story — by the president and others, many well before the president ever chimed in — has been hijacked to making it about the anthem when in reality the anthem was always just the vehicle.”
The demonstrations may make people like Trump uncomfortable, but that’s the point — protests are in many cases supposed to make people uncomfortable, interrupting daily life in some way to force people to pay attention to an issue. Marches make people in the street stop walking or driving to look at what’s going on. Sit-ins shut down restaurants and other establishments, getting would-be customers to ask why. Kneeling during the anthem is an act that stands out, prompting viewers to wonder what it’s all about. This can lead to some brief public backlash (just as even the now widely beloved 1960s civil rights protests were mostly disliked by Americans at the time), but they slowly force conversations that we wouldn’t have otherwise.
NFL players have continued the protests because they’re as timely as ever. Just this week, a Cincinnati police officer used a stun gun on an 11-year-old black girl because she walked away from him after she was accused of shoplifting groceries. And Chicago was recently roiled by protests following the police shooting of a 37-year-old black man, reigniting racial tensions in the city.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, has actively worked against the cause these NFL players are raising. Trump’s Department of Justice, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has by and large refused to investigate police for brutality and racial bias. The administration has worked to reinvigorate a war on drugs mired by racial disparities. And Trump, of course, has made all sorts of racist and otherwise bigoted comments — at one point suggesting that there were “very fine people on both sides” during the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, in which one side was made up of literal Nazis and white supremacists.
The NFL recently tried to clamp down on the protests, setting up a policy requiring players and other staff to stand up for the anthem. But the policy was put on hold after it drew a lot of backlash.
So with another NFL season upon us, the protests have continued. And Trump is tweeting about them.