Trump’s Bigotry Reaches a New Level and the NFL Takes a Knee

The current collision of sports and politics is an issue I’ve been following intensely for the past month, with encouragement from my sports and politics-obsessed father, who has sent me numerous articles and essays from some of the best writers in both arenas. I plan to write a lengthy piece on this subject in the upcoming weeks and in the meantime, would like to hear thoughts from my peers on this subject.

Initially, when I started reading articles on Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling in protest during the national anthem and his current unemployed status, I was confused. Why was a once elite quarterback not wanted by any team? Why was Kaepernick’s right to free speech not being supported at all by the league? Why wasn’t he being celebrated for his interest in stopping racial violence and recognized for his donations to struggling grassroots organizations?

Then, I began to wonder why the NFL was so unsupportive in comparison to leagues like the NBA and WNBA, who openly gave their players permission to use their voices as political platforms for change. “You can politely describe [the NFL] as a top-down, put-up-or-shut-up league where traditional authority reigns supreme,” Nathaniel Friedman wrote in an article for GQ this past February.

But last Friday everything changed. Donald Trump referred to Colin Kaepernick as a “son of a bitch” (to which his mom replied that she was a proud bitch) and encouraged NFL team owners to fire players who didn’t rise for the national anthem.

The following Sunday, dramatic events unfolded across the nation, as almost every team, including several NFL owners, stood on the field or sidelines linking arms with their players during the national anthem, in what Ken Bolson, writer for the New York Times called, “dramatic defiance.” On Monday night, Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, took a knee on the field with his team before the anthem and linked arms with his players. Were the owners getting involved because they care about racial violence and inequality, or were they taking a stance because Trump challenged their authority? I’m not sure. But I was encouraged to see so many players and coaches come together in defiance of a president who continues to inflame and divide the country. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell finally spoke out. “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.”

“They should all kneel,” Rev. Jesse L. Jackson said.  “Not against the flag, but against the interference by Mr. Trump with their First Amendment rights.”

“He declared war [on black America] a long time ago. This is not new,” civil rights activist DeRay McKesson said. “What will it take for more players to take a knee? What will it take?”

This is a crazy time where social issues are being addressed in the sports world first. If you’re following this issue and have any comments, please email me at samantha.gilbert@coloradocollege.edu. The reality is that professional sports are simply a mirror of politics in America.    

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