While President Donald Trump has faced a lot of criticism for his bizarre feud with NFL players and other athletes who engage in protest during the national anthem, at least one major sports star is thankful.
On Tuesday, Real Sports host Bryant Gumbel thanked the president for his tweets and speeches about athlete protests:
Finally tonight, a quick thanks to the current occupant of the White House for energizing the social conscience of the modern American athlete.
That occupant's weekend series of racist, churlish, and childish comments drew a variety of stunning rebukes and actions, which suggests jocks may finally be realizing that apathy won’t cut it anymore. That in conjunction with their fame, they have important civic roles to play — especially now.
Those of us who have long focused on the intersection of sports and society have often wondered what it would take for today’s athletes to forsake the path of least resistance and actually stand for something. And now we know.
Many suddenly seem not just willing but also eager to follow in the giant footsteps of Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Billie Jean King, Roberto Clemente, Arthur Ashe, and many others who courageously used their athletic platforms to challenge authority in the pursuit of justice.
Back in their day, Bob Dylan famously said, “The times they are a changin.’” And that's still true today — as is the sad reality that certain things haven’t really changed at all.
Starting on Friday, Trump began speaking and tweeting about how athletes who refuse to stand for the national anthem are insulting the country, its flag, and even military veterans. (The athletes are, in reality, protesting police brutality, systemic racism, and a president who tries to silence them.) Since then, hundreds of athletes have taken the knee during the national anthem, stayed behind in their locker rooms as it goes on, locked arms, and spoken out against Trump in media.
In other words, Trump’s demand that people stop doing this thing has actually led to more people doing it. It’s a remarkable backlash — and one that Gumbel, at least, is thankful for.
For more on the ongoing feud between Trump and the NFL, read Vox’s explainer.