President Trump and the NFL Protests
President Trump held a political rally in Alabama on September 22, 2017 that truly opened up the debate over NFL players kneeling for the national anthem. Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field!’” Trump went on to say, “Total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.”
Looking at Trump’s choice of words unravels his argument. Firstly, he speaks of the disrespect these players are showing, and yet he openly calls them sons of bitches. Hypocrisy and disrespect like this is a large part of why NFL players are kneeling. Their voices are not being heard. They are being treated as if they have no right to do anything other than entertain. When they attempt to be treated as equals by demonstrating in the most passive way, they are rebuked and mocked.
Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, spoke out against Trump immediately following the statements made in the rally. Goodell said, “The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture.” Goodell went on to reference the response from NFL athletes for hurricane relief (side note: Houston Texans’ defender JJ Watt fundraised over $30 million to help after Harvey) and the impact of NFL teams and players on communities at large. Goodell responded to Trump by saying, “Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL.”
In both Trump and Goodell’s statements, a strong sense of unity is emphasized. Trump makes exclusive comments such as, “our heritage” and “everything we stand for,” while Goodell attempts to include more people with his comments on the uniting impact of the NFL. Both call on the “United” portion of the acronym that makes up our country. In doing this, both miss the point of the protests. African-American players are using the stage they have been provided to draw attention to the race gap that, yes, still exists today. This illusion, that specifically Trump holds, that everyone in America shares a common belief system or way of life is simply incorrect. There is no “our heritage.” The American flag is a symbol of togetherness, and yet we as a nation are not, and never have been, together. These protests are simply bringing this to the attention of the people who do not realize there is an issue.
Here are two out of the dozens of tweets from NFL players in response to Trump’s words.
After Trump boosted the recognition of these protests, the NFL owners got together. In this meeting, Bob McNair (old, white man and owner of the Houston Texans) said: “You can’t have the inmates running the prison.” For obvious reasons, this statement had some serious blowback from NFL players. A group of 11 players sent a letter requesting a meeting with McNair, Goodell, and Colin Kaepernick. The meeting did not happen, but the letter is telling. It reads, “It is ironic that such a quote would emerge in the midst of an ongoing struggle to highlight injustices suffered by people of color, including our nation’s deeply flawed approach to criminal justice and inhumane treatment of imprisoned people. The events that have unfolded the past several days have upset and angered many players and continues to demonstrate the lack of seriousness that some league officials are approaching our discussions. It is this lack of earnest words and actions that provoke and reinforce the continuation of our protest.” In this letter, the players clearly spell out why they protested in the first place, and why they are still protesting. The disregard in the way impactful people have reacted to the protests has sparked further protest. The letter ends pointedly with, “Regardless of our views, our disappointment and our frustration, we believe dialogue remains the only path forward, though our patience is being continually disrespected and is wearing thin.” The players are doing what they can to get their points across, yet they are being brushed aside.
Here are a few facts to add scope to these protests.
· Roger Goodell makes $34.1 million a year, and is up for a contract extension this year [cnn.com]
· Average NFL salary is $1.9 million a year, but this number is skewed heavily by a few upper-tier contracts, namely quarterbacks Matt Stafford, Derek Carr, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, and Carson Palmer, who all make more than $24 million a year [usatoday.com]
· Only one NFL team owner is not white (Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars) [globalnews.ca]
· There are only seven non-white NFL coaches out of 32 teams [profootballtalk.nbcsports.com]
· 69.7% of NFL players are African-American [aei.org]