Trump and the NFL: Complacency as a Term of Employment?
September 26th, 2017
The big, controversial story of this week: across the country, football players, coaches, and teams have been taking a knee during the traditional pre-game national anthem. This action, along with locking arms during the anthem, is not a symbol of prayer, as some might think. Instead, it is a method of peaceful protest against the ceaseless racial profiling, injustice, and violence that African-Americans experience at the hands of police and of society every day.
This choice on the part of football players has been debated far and wide (as forms of protest often unjustly are in the United States). And as usual, President Trump has inserted himself into the discussion in a very big way. Since September 23rd, Trump has tweeted 23 times about the protests — and very redundantly, at that — claiming that the players are being disrespectful. Trump’s solution? Fans should boycott games until players stand up for the anthem.
In one of his especially problematic tweets from the past few days, Trump described a player’s employment as a kind of a deal: “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 [be disrespectful].” In other words: we’ll give you millions of dollars if you help create a (false) image of patriotism. This kind of deal that Trump is describing is exactly what the founding fathers were trying to avoid when they wrote the Constitution. A system where silence and compliance are conditions of an individual’s participation is not a democratic one.
Above all, the entitled nature of Trump’s criticisms is what stood out to me. Due to his immense privilege (straight, wealthy, white, male, the list goes on…), Trump evidently believes he has the absolute last word on every issue and that he has the most qualification to say what is right and wrong; this perspective is narrow, obnoxious, and entitled. In one tweet, Trump wrote that “the issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem.” Countless times in history, kneeling has been used as a form of protest; a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. kneeling at Selma in protest has recently been circulating. What gives Trump the right to say anything (or, for that matter, have the last word) about protesting racial injustice? Nothing.
In terms of forms of protest, the sheer hypocrisy of Trump’s arguments is alarming. When Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and nationalists, anti-Semites, and others fueled by hate and prejudice gathered in Charlottesville, supposedly to protest the taking down of a confederate soldier statue, Trump seemed fine with it; in fact, he even put blame onto those peacefully counter-protesting the hate groups in the streets (rather than solely the hate groups themselves). But now, when players and coaches are simply locking arms or taking a knee to peacefully protest injustice and stand in solidarity with their fellow teammates, Trump is shooting out tweets, condemning each and every individual involved.
What Trump needs is perspective. He is not the only authority on any given issue, and although he has opinions (like all of us), engaging in one-sided streams of insults is not how anyone (let alone the leader of the United States) should express said opinions. Our country’s fabric is inherently made up of many different groups and people, and as soon as Trump recognizes that engaging in healthy debate and conversation with all of these people — including his critics — is the only way to approach change, we’ll be heading down a much more effective and democratic path.