What is it with Donald Trump? The President of the United States of America, a person who historically unites Americans in times of trouble, seems physically incapable of not dividing the country every time he Tweets or is anywhere near a microphone.
Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, from left, Mike Wallace, former player Ray Lewis and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley kneel down during the playing of the U.S. national anthem before an NFL football game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Ravens at Wembley Stadium in London, Sunday Sept. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Leave aside the image of the president castigating Americans (in this case primarily Blacks who happen to be well compensated for playing professional football) for exercising their First Amendment rights by kneeling during the playing of The Star Spangled Banner in protest of racial injustice. What is truly disquieting is that anyone would agree with the president on this issue. As for the argument that sports should be a place free of politics, the singing of the national anthem, military jets flying over games and military members being reunited with their families during half-time spectacles already made the games political.
On Sept. 22, while at a campaign in Alabama—a state without a professional sports team of any note—Donald Trump told the crowd, “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!’”
That he then continued his tirade over the weekend and into the early part of the week was to be expected—Trump instinctively seems to know the exact thing that will rile up people who support and oppose him.
The things Trump highlights—Blacks not obeying him, the casual encouragement of police brutality, the island of Puerto Rico owing money to Wall Street as a possible reason why the island received aid much later than other parts of America, immigrants committing crimes and Muslims in general—are not an accident. They feed into the narrative promoted by far-right publications such as Breitbart.com and infowars.com that White people are under siege and need a savior. Trump positions himself as the savior of the White race.
These things are, of course, not normal.
What is normal is people expressing their displeasure with the way things are going. From the days of Ida B. Wells documenting the lynchings taking place across the South to Martin Luther King Jr. marching and demanding to be treated equally, civil rights activists have always been seen as a nuisance and threat by those who oppose them. Every time an activist notes a racial injustice, the response seems to be, “Wait your turn. There are more important things going on.”
Sports stars have long been part of the civil rights movement. Muhammad Ali went to jail rather than submit to the Vietnam War draft. Arthur Ashe was vocal about the evils of apartheid in South Africa. Tommie Smith and John Carlos expressed their support for the Black Power movement from the Olympic podium. And while Trump’s comments about the NFL seems to have encouraged more NFL players and owners to denounce the president’s behavior, Colin Kaepernick still does not have a job. For those keeping score, Kaepernick began his protest in 2016 during the presidency of Barack Obama.
The wave of people protesting at games, including college football cheerleaders, high school football players, WNBA teams and, yes, team owners, is a good thing. According to the Washington Post, 730 people have been shot and killed by the police so far in 2017. There were 963 such deaths in 2016. Something is going on and people have a right to know why so many people are being killed by the police.
When asked about the protests, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, “I think if the debate is really, for them, about police brutality, they should probably protest the officers on the field that are protecting them instead of the American flag.”
Given the number of people who die at the hands of the police, perhaps it’s best if the protests remain in public places where there are plenty of witnesses.