The attention surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the US national anthem in protest of systemic oppression and police brutality reached its peak last weekend, when President Donald Trump condemned anyone who took part in this form of protest. At a rally in Alabama, Trump suggested that National Football League (NFL) owners fire any player they see sitting down or kneeling during the performance of the anthem. This resulted in league-wide backlash, with many NFL owners, players, and coaches defending the players’ right to free speech.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who donated $1 million USD to Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign, released a statement reading, “I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday… I support [the players’] right to peacefully affect social change.”
Other NFL superstars such as Green Bay Packers tight end Martellus Bennett and Buffalo Bills running back Lesean McCoy spoke out in protest of Trump’s comments. Super Bowl Champion Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks took it a step further, releasing a video on The Players Tribune.
“I think it’s very interesting that he condemned the protest – the silent protest of our players, who are protesting the injustice and bigotry and racism that has plagued our great country for so long.” Sherman went on to criticize Trump for seeing these players as “radicals” while also taking time to condemn white supremacists, in reference to the recent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
While Trump’s comments may have caused many more NFL players to join in on these protests, they all had different ways of going about them. Some teams, such as the Houston Texans, decided to lock arms during the national anthem as opposed to sitting down. Both the Seahawks and Tennessee Titans rosters agreed to stay inside their locker rooms for the anthem before facing off. Even Detroit Lions anthem singer Rico Lavelle kneeled and raised his fist during the last line of his performance.
Trump also caused controversy in the NBA by tweeting that he would withdraw an invitation to the recent NBA champion Golden State Warriors to visit the White House, a common tradition for the title holder of any major North American league. This was despite Warriors superstar point guard Stephen Curry already saying he would vote “no” in a team decision on whether or not to attend.
Trump’s tweet at Curry caused NBA superstar LeBron James to tweet back “U bum [Curry] already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!” In light of this, several active and retired NBA players voiced their discontent on Twitter, including superstars Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and Kobe Bryant. Additionally, James’ tweet reached 1.1 million likes and 550,000 retweets — the most ever for a tweet by an athlete.
The one thing that has perhaps been lost among the controversy, however, is Colin Kaepernick’s original reason for protesting, which was not about Trump. It was instead to bring attention to the institutional racism and oppression that is so prevalent in the United States, especially toward African-Americans.
In September, Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett attested to being unfairly apprehended by law enforcement in Las Vegas over the summer. “The Officers’ use of force was unbearable,” said Bennett. “I felt helpless as I lay there on the ground handcuffed facing the real-life threat of being killed.”