Athlete Protests: Who Are You Calling an S.O.B?

athlete protests, NFL, NBA, Donald Trump

The past weekend was dominated by the news Donald Trump made when he went on rants about athletes from the NBA and the NFL. It all started on Friday, September 22, when Donald Trump went after the NFL.

Of course, this elicited a swift response from athletes and officials from the concerned sports on Twitter and off. And of course, Trump doubled down on his comments.

Now, Trump’s attacks against Goodell or the league at large were nothing new. A few years ago, Trump made tweets when the Ray Rice scandal hit. He also made when Deflategate was in full swing. Just last year, Trump minimized the concern over head injuries in the NFL.

This also wasn’t the first time Trump made comments against the NFL protests. While at a Kentucky rally in March, Trump singled out Colin Kaepernick, who started the silent protests during the National Anthem.

While I was personally disgusted by what Trump said, and I was taken about by how sports and politics were being tangled up together, I kinda of liked the response from various athletes and officials. However, those comments alluded to greater problems in American society.

Before I can get into that last part, I must discuss what Trump said and the responses to his comments.

The Sad Bambino Went After the NFL.

While out on the stump for Sen. Luther Strange in Huntsville, Alabama, Trump veered from the GOP primary race there and started talking about the silent protests during the National Anthem. He said the following:

In short, Trump blamed the protests, which he said were dispectful, for the falling ratings for NFL games. He also said the rule changes aimed at making the game safer were ruining the sport.

He would double down on those sentiments on Saturday, when he took to Twitter:

If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!

He also went after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell:

Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.Tell them to stand!

Trump said this while in Morristown, New Jersey on Sunday, Sept. 24:

I think it’s very disrespectful to our country. I think it’s very, very disrespectful to our flag.

What Trump Tweeted on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017:

Many people booed the players who kneeled yesterday (which was a small percentage of total). These are fans who demand respect for our Flag! The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!

The NFL Responded.

The NFL community had a swift response to Trump’s comments, with NFL officials striking back starting on Saturday afternoon. Among those who responded included:

  • NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
  • NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith
  • New York Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch
  • Miami Dolphins owner and founder of Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) Stephen Ross
  • San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York
  • Green Bay Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy
  • Teresa Kaepernick, Colin’s mother
  • Richard Sherman
  • Reggie Bush
  • Cameron Jordan
  • Cecil Shorts III
  • Eric Ebron
  • Torrey Smith
  • Davante Adams
  • Conner Barwin
  • Chris Conley
  • Benjamin Watson
  • Shane Ray
  • Alex Smith


On Sunday

On Sunday, Ian Rappoport tweeted that he expected to see a large show of solidarity among NFL owners and players following discussions he had with them due to Trump’s comments.

And there was a bigger response than I expected.

At multiple locations, players were seen kneeling, sitting down, praying, or locking arms during the anthem. The Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, and Pittsburgh Steelers stayed in their locker rooms during the national anthem — with the exception of PIT offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, who stood outside the tunnel with his hand over his heart. (Villanueva is a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan. He later apologized because he said he did not want to make it about himself.)

On Monday, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones kneeled with his players and coaches, before the national anthem.

From Goodell

The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.

From Mara and Tisch

Comments like we heard last night from the president are inappropriate, offensive and divisive. We are proud of our players, the vast majority of whom use their NFL platform to make a positive difference in our society.

From Ross

Our country needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness. We need to seek to understand each other and have civil discourse instead of condemnation and sound bites. I know our players who kneeled for the anthem and these are smart young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone. They wanted to start a conversation and are making a difference in our community, including working with law enforcement to bring people together. We all can benefit from learning, listening and respecting each other. Sports is a common denominator in our world. We all have the responsibility to use this platform to promote understanding, respect and equality.

From York

The callous and offensive comments made by the President are contradictory to what this great country stands for. Our players have exercised their rights as United States citizens in order to spark conversation and action to address social injustice. We will continue to support them in their peaceful pursuit of positive change in our country and around the world. The San Francisco 49ers will continue to work toward bringing communities, and those who serve them, closer together.

From DeMaurice Smith

The peaceful demonstrations by some of our players have generated a wide array of responses.  Those opinions are protected speech and a freedom that has been paid for by the sacrifice of men and women throughout history.  This expression of speech has generated thoughtful discussions in our locker rooms and in board rooms. However, the line that marks the balance between the rights of every citizen in our great country gets crossed when someone is told to just “shut up and play.”

NFL players do incredible things to contribute to their communities. NFL players are a part of a legacy of athletes in all sports who throughout history chose to be informed about the issues that impact them and their communities. They chose – and still choose today – to do something about those issues rather than comfortably living in the bubble of sports.  Their decision is no different from the one made by countless others who refused to let “what they do” define or restrict “who they are” as Americans.

From Winston

The divisiveness we are experiencing in this country has created gridlock in our political system, given voice to extreme, fringe beliefs and paralyzed our progress as a nation. Divisiveness breeds divisiveness, but NFL players have proven to unify people in our country’s toughest moments and we will continue to do so now.

From Alex Smith

I’m talking about the comments that were made by the president, targeting the NFL, targeting the quality and character of guys in this league for that very protest. I found that very alarming.

It’s the same guy who couldn’t condemn violent neo-Nazis. And he’s condemning guys taking a knee during the anthem.

There are bigger issues out there that he probably should be worried about. But for some reason the NFL is on his mind.

From Craft

Donald Trump and Bob Craft exchanged pleasantries in April 2017 as the New England Patriots visited the White House, but Craft was pretty mum during the past election. However, Craft felt the need to speak up about Trump’s comments.

I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President.

The Sad Bambino Went After the NBA, Too.

Trump wasn’t done on Saturday, because he soon went after Steve Curry, who wavered on going to the White House as is customary for teams that win national championships:

Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!

The NBA Responded

Curry was largely unfazed by Trump’s tweets. When asked about them by reporters, Curry said of Trump’s behavior, “It’s not what leaders do.”

Lebron James jumped into the conversation to defend Curry, with this tweet (which has since been deleted …

And James was supported by ESPN’s Jemele Hill, who Trump attacked after she called him a white supremacist. Hill told James, “Welcome to the club, bro.”

Of course, there was a more measured response from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver:

I was in favor of the team visiting the White House and thought it was a rare opportunity for these players to share their views directly with the President. More importantly, I am proud of our players for taking an active role in their communities and continuing to speak out on critically important issues.

But by far, the best reaction came from San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich:

Now, There Are Some Non-Racial Aspects to This.

I know many Americans cringe about racial discussions, and I will admit there are elements to this story that have nothing to do with race. These elements still aren’t good, though.

1. Politics Are Involved.

Immediately, Donald Trump’s comments about the NFL have put his owner buddies on the spot because of politics. Six owners gave him over $1 million, and most have remained mum about his comments. One of the silent ones is Jets owner Woody Johnson, who is the Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

2. This Could Be Personal.

Trump has a “personal history in the NFL.” In the 1980’s he let it be known that he wanted to buy a team, but he was rebuffed. Instead, he settled for becoming the owner of the New Jersey Generals of the short-lived USFL.

To be honest, Trump was the main reason the USFL was short-lived.

(In 1983, he proposed that the league move its games from the spring, where it had its own little niche, to the fall in order to compete with NFL games. Trump later led a lawsuit against the NFL, charging that the league had established a monopoly. He eventually wanted the league to absorb the USFL teams so he could get in that way.

Trump failed on all accounts. The civil suit ended with an embarrassing $3 settlement from the NFL and the USFL faltered due to lost revenues.)

3. Additionally, Trump Wanted to Create Another Distraction.

Trump’s remarks come at a time when he has his plate full. He has to deal with a budget, he has been saber-rattling with North Korea, and he is dealing with the fallout from the deals he made with Democrats. Trump signaled that he was going to do away with DACA, but his deal with the Democrats involved allowing Dreamers remain in the U.S.

4. Regardless, the Comments Were Not Only Insensitive but Ill-Timed.

Days before it was revealed that Aaron Hernandez had a severe case of CTE. (Hernandez, who went to prison after facing numerous murder charges and being convicted after being found guilty for Odin Lloyd’s murder, committed suicide in his prison cell. Before being arrested, he was a tight end for the New England Patriots.)

That Said, Trump’s Comments Are Still Damaging on a Racial Level.

The effect the negative comments about the NFL were as obvious as the response from players, owners, and officials was loud. The Comments the Trump made about the seemed odd at the time, but then he veered toward praising NASCAR.

Trump administration officials and associates denied that Trump’s attacks on the NFL were racially based. But at the same time, some of those associates did signal Trump was signaling to his base. In actuality, the assertions that Trump’s comments were racially based and he was appealing to his base are not mutually exclusive.

One thing that points to this reality is NASCAR’s response to the protests. Several owners in this sport have banned national anthem protests. The sport if overwhelmingly white and its roots are tied to the South.

Overall, the comments also highlight the divides within the NFL and among the sport’s fanbase. Look at the demographics. According to a report from Reuters in 2014, 83% of the NFL’s fans are white and they are 20% more likely to be Republicans. On top of that, 80% of the players, who are sacrificing their bodies, are black and all but one of the owners in the NFL are white.

In a way it seems fitting that Trump would make such statements in Alabama. That is a football state with one of the best college teams in the nation and he was addressing a predominantly white crowd which cheered his comments.

And at the same time, this harkens back to Trump’s Charlottesville comments. He was hesitant to call out white supremacists, at times equating counter-protesters with them while saying nice things about the first group. This is where I agree with Alex Smith. While I feel his first response to Colin Kaepernick’s protest was insufficient (in retrospect), Smith’s comments about Trump get to the heart of the matter.

For the Record …

It is clear to me that Colin Kaepernick, the one who started this silent protest, is being blackballed. The NFL owners might not be open about it, but it is clear that this discussion makes them uncomfortable. For the next post in the series, I would like to discuss why and what the protest is all about.


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