What Do We Make of the Battle Between President Trump and the NFL?

I honestly believe those standing for patriotism and those kneeling for justice are seeking the same thing: an America that is truly great.

Some members of the Oakland Raiders kneel during the playing of the National Anthem before an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017.

By Michael Brown Published on September 25, 2017

On Sunday evening, the lead story on the Huffington Post announced, “FOOTBALL TAKES THE KNEE.” The lead story on the Drudge Report proclaimed, “NFL TAKES KNEE.” Left and right both agreed on the major news of the day. Beyond that, there was little agreement to be found.

NFL owners expressed their solidarity with the protesters and their disappointment with President Trump.

In the words of NFL team owner (and previous Trump supporter) Robert Kraft, “Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”

In contrast, NASCAR owners made clear that such protests had no place in their sport.

When NASCAR team owner Richard Childress was asked, “What he would do if one of his employees protested during the anthem,” he replied, “Get you a ride on a Greyhound bus when the national anthem is over. I told them anyone who works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people gave their lives for it. This is America.”

Name Calling and Division

Earlier in the week, the president had referred to NFL players who knelt in protest during the national anthem as SOBs who should be fired. He also uninvited the NBA’s Golden State Warriors to the White House. In response, LeBron James called President Trump a “bum.”

Is there a right and wrong in all this? How do we sort things out?

Kevin Durant commended the NFL players for bringing a unified and unifying message. He wrote: “I think our NFL players are doing a great job of sending a great message, and we stand behind them as athletes, and we support them as well.”

In contrast, conservative Joel Pollack wrote:

President Donald Trump called out former 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick and other NFL players on Friday for protesting the national anthem, expressing what millions of football fans have already registered by tuning out.

But NFL officialdom, Hollywood, the mainstream media, and left-wingers in all quarters have distorted what he said, to the point where entire teams felt obligated to protest — something.

How, then, do we sort things out? Is there really a right side and a wrong side?

Seeking Clarity For Both Sides

Here are 6 points to consider (with the hope of bringing some clarity and with the risk of getting everyone mad at me):

1) The American flag is associated with sacrifices made for our national freedom, and it represents the best of our nation. Therefore, protesting during the national anthem should be avoided since it is perceived as unpatriotic.

It would have been better if Colin Kaepernick had found a better way to express his concerns about alleged social injustice.

It’s true that he launched a national movement of sorts. But his actions (and those of others in past weeks) drew more attention to the man than to the message. He brought more division than awareness.

2) If we want to celebrate America’s greatness, we can’t ignore America’s faults.

I agree with those who blame President Obama’s identity politics for much of the racial division in our country today. But I also agree with those who say that there are systemic problems in our justice system, with rich and poor not being treated equally. (And in many cases, blacks and white not receiving equal treatment.)

We can stand for patriotism and justice together. Don’t they go hand in hand? Don’t they support and complement each other?

3) The debate about the protests is not a debate about race.

It’s true that most NFL players are black and that most of Trump’s Alabama crowd was white. And it’s true that most of the Golden State Warriors, who are not going to the White House, are black. And most of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, who are going to the White House, are white.

But the ultimate issues here are not black and white issues, unless we want to claim that no blacks are patriotic or that no whites care about social justice. To make this into a race debate is to play into the hands of the race baiters.

4) Incendiary rhetoric begets more incendiary rhetoric.

Speaking to a conservative crowd in Alabama, President Trump knew he was on solid ground when he ripped into protesting NFL players, calling them “sons of  b—-s” who should be fired.

To paraphrase, How dare these spoiled brats despise the blood that was shed for their freedom!

 In the end, what everyone desires is the same: to be treated with dignity and respect.

But as president, his role is not only to appeal to his base. He must also rally the nation around important causes. Comments like this have the opposite effect.

And when America’s Commander in Chief derides others in such terms, he only stokes the fires of division. He opens the door to outrageous comments like LeBron’s “bum” remark.

Can you imagine what the liberal response would have been if a famous white athlete had called President Obama a bum? Conversely, can you imagine what the conservative response would have been if President Obama had referred to MLB’s Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa as “SOB’s” for attending a Glenn Beck rally in DC?

5) Most Americans want sports to be sports.

It’s likely that ratings will continue to drop as games continue to be politicized and Americans feel our flag is being disrespected. Must everything be politicized?

Why can’t athletes entertain their loyal fans while finding ways to raise awareness of important causes outside the playing field? They have instant media audiences. With their large followings, they could recruit rather than alienate.

6) Once again, this is about President Trump.

No political figure in memory has been able to drive the news like Donald Trump drives the news, shifting our attention from North Korea to the NFL in the blink of an eye. He even sets the parameters for debate and discussion, virtually setting up the talking points for both sides in advance.

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What was a fairly minor issue in the NFL (in terms of numbers of players protesting) became a massive issue overnight. Now several hundred players are involved in making a statement one way or another. The response even trickled into a Major League Baseball game.

As one professional athlete commented to me in private, the protest on Sunday was a response to the president’s attack more than it was a statement about social justice issues.

Mr. Trump now has a fresh set of enemies. And unfortunately, the race card is being played against him.

Silver Lining

But there’s a silver lining to all this. If our president recognizes the sacred trust he’s been given — he has been elected to lead the entire nation — he can use his marketing genius to unite, rather than divide.

Let’s pray that he’ll find a way to tweet constructively rather than destructively. (I know that’s a tall order, but that’s why we pray!) Let’s pray that those who oppose him would take the olive branch and put their own weapons down.

I honestly believe that those standing for patriotism and those taking a knee for justice are seeking the same thing: an America that is truly great. In the end, what everyone desires is the same: to be treated with dignity and respect.

If each of us acted that way today, treating with dignity and respect even those we differ with, we could start a movement of our own. Shall we?

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  • Wayne Cook

    Michael…you should see the anger against the NFL amongst fans. Goodall has made millions of enemies…stadiums are empty. I seriously doubt Goodall is going to win this…and it isn’t about race, but about seriously rich spoiled players, in the minds of fans.

    And you’re wrong about the race card. How can a $10million a year player living in a mansion complain about race?

    Completely disagree with you on this one, as do several hundred thousand fans who used to watch NFL football.

    I know the NFL intimately…I used to be a video engineer for 17 years working for the networks. The most subsidized and arrogant business in the US is the NFL. The fans are going to have the last say in this issue, not the players.

    • Lea Hawk Duvel

      Wayne Cook, I agree. I really believe that President Trump has only given a voice to so many of us who have felt we’ve had to be silent for SO long. It’s what we’ve wanted to say, but couldn’t. As a military mom, I feel this very deeply. And it has not one single thing to do with race. (But Michael Brown, you have lots of great points here as well and I enjoy your articles very much).

      • Wayne Cook

        WOW! well said!

  • Paul

    Michael, have you ever been to a NASCAR race? If you had you would understand why you won’t see this disrespect at their events. Fear for their lives!

  • Allen

    They can protest on their own time. When they are on the field they are employees. How many of us would be allowed to protest at our jobs? We would all be fired!!! Bottom line is the fans pay their salaries and that will eventually dictate the outcome. If team owners who support this UnAmerican display loss enough money they will change their stance on this. In the end the only color that matters to the is GREEN!!!

    • Tina Marino

      Sadly, their “employers’ are just as liberal, anti-American and are promoting this protest….. no chance of the players being fired.

  • Howard Rosenbaum

    These knee jerk spasms by the anti Trump crowd are just one more demonstration of how Americans should not behave. To disrespect the most prominent symbol of a nation which has waved above the bloody fields of battle both home & abroad for over two hundred years is a display of premeditated ignorance & unmitigated chutzpah. Even if these human battering rams feel they have legitimate reasons to protest their much less fortunate brethrens’ presumed treatment from law enforcement, their actions are disproportionate to their concerns. No it’s not just some fabric w/stars & stripes & colors of red white & blue.
    In other words these demonstrations have become orchestrated presentations designed to
    create anti – American sentiment rather than legitimate protests.
    That is in essence the sum of the matter. Just one more way for the so called elite to stage yet another charade against what they will never embrace. A Trump presidency. Come on, were the hearts of these nouveau rich players as huge as their bulked up bod’s & fattened purses they would have set up defense funds & other financial prerogatives to really come to the aid of those who they claim to represent ….

  • Lee Phillips

    “…many Antichrists have come…”. 1 John 2:18

    “The outcome of rebellion is destruction.”—Keith Moore

  • Conservator

    I love football, it is one of the few things I enjoyed watching on TV. I now refuse to watch the NFL and I will never tune in again until the politics is taken out of sport. Unfortunately that does not seem to be likely as most media companies have become highly political and have joined the regressive left. I’ve also cut the cord on my satellite dish and my wife and I are trying to eliminate TV from our lives. Most of what is on television now is offensive and I can’t even watch the news anymore. Not to mention the constant bombardment of commercials.

    As for BLM and ANTIFA . . . paid troublemakers pushing lies in order to create chaos. The whole BLM movement was stirred up by the left to mobilize the black community to vote for the democrats. Blacks in this country have more freedom and opportunity available to them than just about anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, misguided social policies have just about destroyed the black communities in our inner cities by creating a cycle of dependence upon government. I spent most of my career in the community college system. ANY student who wanted a good education can get it. Minority populations have all kinds of financial assistance available from government and other sources. I am willing to state that any young black person who wants an education, is willing to drop the “victim” attitude and work hard can succeed in this country. I saw it in the colleges where I worked every day. That narrative is ridiculed and suppressed by those who would use black people for their political purposes and want them to continue to feel victimized. The problems we face due to the breakdown in moral standards and the collapse of the family are immense – all these problems are due to the rebellion of the “protestors against anything” that started back in the 60’s. “TUNE IN, TURN ON, DROP OUT” “IF IT FEELS GOOD DO IT” “GOD IS DEAD” “LOVE THE ONE YOU”RE WITH” all mantras of the 60’s. I am ashamed to be associated with that generation. Just look at what those liberal/progressive ideas have wrought in our society.

    OK, I am done with my morning rant!

  • KC

    Spoiled brats on both sides! Satan is using everything he can to divide and conquer America.
    I believe in free speech – and even the right to disagree in the direction that local, state, and national government is being done. I have the right to write my representatives, speak to local law enforcement, and make every attempt to right wrongs and change the direction for the better. But that isn’t really what is going on here – all that is occurring is name calling and baiting the other side.
    I know of professional athletes that get involved in their communities and work hard to change the future for that community – that is what should be making headlines – not the staying in the locker room and taking a knee. Unfortunately the good that occurs never seems to be the lead story.

  • Tim Pan

    Before the National anthem is played spot 100 disabled vets ten feet in front of the football players. Let them see the amputees and paralyzed veterans . :Let them see who they are disrespecting. Let them see what real sacrifice looks like.

  • Concerned Christian

    I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment Dr. Brown:

    “I honestly believe those standing for patriotism and those kneeling for justice are seeking the same thing: an America that is truly great.”

    As someone that served in the military, I always thought that protesting, even the flag itself, is the greatest testament to what makes America great. In the military, i could not do this. Which made it special to me that I live in a country that allows a civilian to do it.

    Please note that these players are not desecrating the flag in anyway. There are no flag turnings nor are they spitting on the flag. They are simply using it as a symbol of protest.

    Maybe they could use a different method but if we keep in mind what Dr. Brown said, we could see that both sides are proclaiming the same message, just from different points of view.

    • sc_cannon

      I wouldn’t mind so much if whole teams weren’t involved, the NFL and NBA are mostly black and that did not cause any significant backlash against those sports. The only identifiable reason for this protest when the Natl. Anthem is played is that some people think blacks are treated unfairly by police. White players have no particular interest in protesting but a lot of pressure to join the protest is put on them. If the sports want to involve themselves in racism I suppose those sports will go into decline.

  • m-nj

    It is a two way street…. The players are free to “take a knee” and disrespect what the flag and the national anthem stand for. Likewise, those that think it is disrespectful are free to criticize the kneelers.

    Glad I was never a TV sports watcher.

  • tz1

    Trump also has a fresh set of supporters, or at least they will be more active.

    If there is a reason for Trump, it is because the nice Conservativism Inc. was more about losing gracefully (though not honorably – the other side cheated) than principles or winning.

    The left is uncivil, insulting, even violent at times (Milo @ Berkeley the first time!) and NOTHING HAPPENS.

    Kapernick couldn’t find a team. What Trump has done was to impose a cost on the leftist protesters with the polarization. Either the millionaire brats will have to virtue signal on their own time, be fired, or the NFL will lose increasing millions as they turn into their own version of the Woman’s March (the one where Madonna wanted to blow up the Whitehouse and Miley? said she was a filthy, nasty, woman then talked about her period, and then a Palestinian terrorist that was just deported spoke).

    The NFL – and NBA, MLB, etc. will have to take sides, and it is not necessarily for or against Trump, but whether they will allow their platforms to be politicized going forward.

    NR or Buckley said its job was to stand athwart history and yell “stop”. That is what Trump did – the slow politicization of everyting including sports and entertainment (consider Hamilton when Pence attended). He’s yelling “Stop!”.

    • Conservator

      Uh, The “Filthy, Nasty woman was Ashley Judd, not Madonna.

  • Jim Walker

    Actually kneeling down is more respectful that standing up in some countries.
    In fact I ask them to do more, bow down low, that is the ultimate posture.

    • Concerned Christian

      We’ve already been there and done that in our on country.

  • sc_cannon

    I think that Brown is flat wrong about it not being about racism. Everyone knows that pro Football and Basketball is mostly negro, still there was no big repulsion of those sports for racial reasons, but now whole teams want to use the Institution of a public display of National pride that is the singing of the National Anthem as a protest and the only identifiable reason is some people are mad that cops have killed negroes unfairly. White players have no particular wish to protest the National Anthem but a lot of pressure is being put on them and they are caving. I suppose that sports and football in particular will go into decline if the teams want to be identified with black racism.

    • Concerned Christian

      “Negro” how old are you? 🙂

      What’s funny is who makes more money, the players or the owners? Yet owners can sit back and allow the players to take all of the blame.

      What people fail to realize is that pro-sports is the ultimate form of capitalism. The owners need the players because they are the most skilled at what they do. Color has no bearing on ability. Perception doesn’t matter. Do you have the skill to do the job is all that matters.

      If the sport goes into decline, it will certainly not just affect the players but the billions invested by white owners, city councils,TV contracts, sponsors, and the almost half-a-million jobs generated around the country.

      The reality is that players have a lot to lose but so does everyone else. The difference is that players are standing for what they perceive affects them directly. How many blacks complained about these issues to their white counterparts and their white counterparts simply blew them off? Well, I’ll bet that’s not happening now.

      So the players are using their leverage in a way that the average american can but doesn’t because they refuse to maximize their God given gifts and talents in the same way athletes have.

      Somehow the players, the NFL, and the fans will all settle down and enjoy the sport. There’s simply too much money involved to do otherwise.

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