American football players are perfectly entitled to “take a knee” during the national anthem—the US still lets down people of colourby Diane Roberts / September 27, 2017 / Leave a comment
Puerto Rico lies in ruins, White House advisers have reportedly been illicitly using private email servers for public business, the latest attempt to repeal Obamacare died last night, but Donald Trump is laser-focused on football. Some players have taken to displaying their displeasure with the way the United States treats people of colour by sitting down for the national anthem. Or taking a knee. Or lurking in the locker room until the damn song is over. Uppity! After everything white America has done for them!
Trump recently delivered a labyrinthine speech ostensibly stumping for Alabama Senator Luther Strange during which he questioned his endorsement of Strange (“maybe I made a mistake”), referred to the leader of North Korea as “Rocket Man,” banged on about his wife wearing high heels to tour Houston flood zone, and insisted that the Mexican wall must be see-through so law enforcement can stop drug dealers using catapults to lob 60-pound sacks of drugs into the US. The US president also demanded that NFL brass terminate the employment of anyone not showing proper respect for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” shouting, “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!’”
The result? A couple of hundred NFL players, owners, and coaches kneeling, sitting or linking arms to demonstrate solidarity against Donald Trump. Even those singing the national anthem joined in. When Rico Lavelle hit the last note at the Lions v Falcons match up in Detroit on Sunday, he went down on one knee. New England’s quarterback Tom Brady, an admitted friend of Trump’s, called the president’s remarks “divisive” and some NFL owners who’d been donors to Trump’s inaugural committee gingerly expressed “disappointment” in his comments.
Football players are, as George W Bush partisans told the Dixie Chicks when they dared criticise the Iraq war, supposed to “shut up and sing.” Or shut up and tackle. When Trump isn’t insulting the players’ alleged lack of patriotism, he’s accusing them of being weak. So what if you get early onset dementia from degenerative brain disease? “Today if you hit too hard—15 yards!” Trump said, then the reaction will be “Throw him out of the game! They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys, just really beautiful tackle. Boom, 15 yards!” The clampdown on these sorts of tackles is “ruining the game.”
As with so much in America, this is all about race. NFL fans are mostly white; NFL players are mostly black. They are supposed to be grateful that America has allowed them to become rich. Last year, Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, called attention to police violence by refusing, as he said, to “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Kaepernick, who has not been selected by an NFL team this year, is now a symbol of resistance. He’s a bit like Barack Obama: half-white, educated, articulate, religious, and determined to change the world, only even scarier—with tattoos and a huge Afro. Obviously a dangerous revolutionary.
Trump rants and tweets and huffs that refusing to display slavish patriotism at professional football games amounts to “total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.” After all, it’s an ancient American tradition that dates all the way back to 2009, when players began standing on the sideline for the national anthem—which, by the way, contains a verse about doing violence to slaves who run away to freedom. In recent years, the Pentagon has paid the NFL to put on even more “patriotic” shows complete with recruiting pitches. When it’s not about race in America, it’s about marketing.