Anthem controversy continues, thanks in part to President Trump
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I think most of us had hoped the national-anthem controversy in the NFL would slip away quietly, losing its steam through issues being addressed and the passing of time.
But it’s not going to happen. And in many ways we have our divisive president, Donald J. Trump, to thank for it.
Some people see the flag and the anthem as sacred beyond imagining. Others see those things as symbols of a country endlessly evolving, a rough-and-ready homeland where values must be tested, protests must be held over perceived and real injustices and patriotism has little to do with blindly following rules and everything to do with amending them for the future.
Trump, obviously, is in the first group.
When NFL players first followed 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in sitting, taking a knee or locking arms in protest over the Black Lives Matter movement during the anthem, Trump reacted as though he were witnessing terrorists ramping up.
He called the protesting players — who were doing this silently and without moving — ‘‘sons of bitches’’ who should be punished severely.
‘‘Wouldn’t we all love for an owner to say: ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired! He’s fired!’ ’’ Trump said at a rally in Alabama in the fall of 2017.
He also complained that the NFL was becoming a league of sissies because ‘‘if you hit too hard — 15 yards!’’
This was coming from a man who never played a day of post-high school football and, of course, who came as close to serving in the military as a bunny comes to a fox den.
Nevertheless, he invited the Super Bowl champion Eagles to come to the White House for a celebration with him and his minions Tuesday. But so many Eagles players turned down the invitation — only 10 reportedly were going to show up — that Trump disinvited the whole team Monday.
In a tweet, he wrote: ‘‘Unfortunately, only a small number of players decided to come, and we canceled the event. Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!’’
There were many of us who thought Kaepernick had gone too far when he wore socks depicting policemen as pigs at a 49ers practice in 2016. It is possible — and desirable — for citizens to be in favor of police responsibility while also respecting those who enforce the law. There are bad cops. There are bad judges, bad priests, bad journalists, bad everything. Painting all with one brush is wrong.
But when the NFL recently announced that players either would stand at attention for the anthem or remain in the locker room while it was played, neither side was appeased.
That our president didn’t say something unifying and soothing but only threw gas on the embers is, in this writer’s opinion, a dereliction of duty.
Would saying the right thing so as not to tear at the shredding fabric of our country be a difficult, delicate thing to do? Yes. Quite.
But could it be done? Great men are supposed to do great things, not petty things. If Trump truly wanted to make America great again, as his caps say, what better way than to chip away at infernal racism?
The fact is, the NFL and NBA — the two main leagues where anthem protests have occurred — are predominantly non-white. The 2017 NBA champion Warriors also were disinvited last year after star Stephen Curry and other players said they wouldn’t attend.
It’s also a fact that being black in America never has been easy. It seems minority players have earned the right to be listened to. Unfortunately, Trump conflates their protests with insubordination, painting them as anti-American and anti-military when the main issue is about inequality.
‘‘Is the president aware that this is about police-involved shootings and not about disrespecting the flag?’’ reporter April Ryan asked White House spokeswoman Sara Huckabee Sanders at a briefing Tuesday.
Sanders ignored the question at first, then said, ‘‘He’s not going to waver on [his stance], and he’s not going to apologize for it.’’
It would be wonderful if those who view standing for the flag as sacred also could understand those who are willing to risk their careers (as Kaepernick did) in silent protest of it. Perhaps if they remembered our founding fathers would have been hung for treason had they not won the Revolutionary War, their minds might change. Then, too, some founding fathers were slave owners.
It’s complex, this United States. Always will be.
One thing the NFL was wrong about during a secret owners meeting about the protests last fall was, sadly, our president. Jaguars owner Shahid Khan tried to cheer up his peers by saying: ‘‘All the damage Trump’s going to do is done.’’