America’s plate is overflowing these days. There’s the special counsel’s Russia investigation. There’s the healthcare bill on life support in the Senate. There’s the devastation from hurricanes in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico. There’s North Korea threatening to shoot down United States aircraft.
Seems like the perfect time for President Trump to put all those matters aside and decide to pick a fight with players in the National Football League.
The president is bent out of shape because some players chose to take a knee during the pre-game ritual of playing the Star Spangled Banner. He set off a firestorm when he ranted that they should be fired, you know, just like the contestants on his old Apprentice television show. His argument was that the players are disrespecting the flag, which was never the point when quarterback Colin Kaepernick started this protest a year ago.
Kaepernick’s complaint had nothing to do with the flag. Instead, it was an attempt to call attention to racial injustice in his country, the epidemic of police confronting and often killing unarmed black people. A traffic stop is not supposed to end in gunfire and death but too often, that was exactly what was happening.
So Kaepernick’s protest was designed to be a wakeup call to America, a reminder that this is supposed to be the land of the free and home of the brave. And his right to issue that wakeup call is protected by his freedom of speech. It’s right there in the first amendment to the Constitution of this country, the same Constitution Donald Trump swore to preserve, protect and defend when he took the oath of office as president.
As is his custom, the president used some salty language to describe the players who dared make this silent statement. The players as a community were not amused and hundreds of them responded with shows of unity before their next games, some linking arms, some kneeling, all telling President Trump to worry about the affairs of state instead of their behavior.
And it wasn’t only players. A number of team owners stood with their employees, arm-in-arm in a show of unity. Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement, defending the players. So did DeMaurice Smith, head of the NFL Players Association. Even the president’s good buddy, New England owner Robert Kraft, who gave Trump a Super Bowl ring and contributed $1 million to his inauguration gala, spoke out on behalf of the protestors.
Instead of backing off, President Trump doubled down, repeating his complaint about the players disrespecting the Anthem and also complaining that new rules designed to address player safety was making the good, old fashioned rock’em-sock’em game of football too soft for his taste. “They’re ruining the game,’’ he complained.
Then, for good measure, he took on the NBA champion Golden State Warriors when Steph Curry did not express appropriate enthusiasm for visiting the White House. “Invitation is withdrawn,’’ Trump tweeted. Curry and the Warriors will survive.
It turns out the players have Twitter accounts, just like the president, and they used them. Perhaps the most succinct tweet came from Chris Paul of the Houston Rockets.
“With everything that’s going on in our country,’’ Paul wrote, “why are you focused on who’s kneeling and visiting the White House? #Stay In Yo Lane-@CP3
Sounds like good advice for a president whose lane has plenty of traffic these days.