The biggest political drama of this weekend started Friday when President Donald Trump was at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama ahead of the Republican primary for Senate. During his speech, he zeroed in on the latest round of NFL players who have knelt during the national anthem in protest of police brutality, calling for the “sons of bitches” to be taken off the field and fired.
Owners and athletes in the National Football League had a very different response. The first game was held in London, England between the Baltimore Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Almost all the players locked arms or knelt as the national anthem was being played. They did stand for “God Save the Queen.”
Gameday in the United States included many demonstrations to rebuke Trump. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responded with a statement declaring that the president’s comments “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.”
At Lambeau, three players of the Green Bay Packers protested during the national anthem by sitting down. Before the game, Packers President Mike Murphy released a statement criticizing Trump and supporting “any of our players who choose to peacefully express themselves with the hope of change for good.”
There were more players on other teams who decided to protest. The Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers opted to stay off the field during the national anthem. Only one player for the Steelers, Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva, stood on the field when it was played.
There will be many on the left who will see this as a strong moment when NFL players stood together in defiance of the president and alleged institutional racism in our society. In doing so, they ignore how this actually helps Trump.
In October 2016, a poll by Quinnipiac University addressed this very topic. It found that 54 percent disapproved of athletes protesting during the national anthem and only 38 percent approved. A majority of Americans don’t want sports and politics to mix. For most people, football games are supposed to be an escape from divisive issues and arduous debates between friends and family.
They don’t pay for tickets and TV sports packages to watch politics. Most football fans want athletes to keep their political activism out of the games. In fact, protests like these that are promoted by the left are partly why Trump won in the first place.
Bradshaw miscalculates in thinking Trump opposes the First Amendment. The NFL players have the right to protest if they wish, but people who disagree with them have the right to criticize them. Trump did not call for legislation to curtail freedom of expression, he just believes kneeling during the national anthem is wrong and he’d like to see the owners take action.
Letter to the Editor: NFL anthem protests constitutional, but harm more than helpLet me start by acknowledging what most other conservatives on this issue have acknowledged: NFL players, and other athletes, have Read…
Nor do the athletes come off as sympathetic. It’s hard to make a point about racism and “white privilege” when the people doing so make millions and are in a league where almost 70 percent of the players are black men.
Following the response of athletes and owners, Trump called for a boycott. If the NFL doesn’t feel threatened, they should. The majority of their fans lean right-of-center and tend to skew older. Things haven’t been going too well for broadcasting stocks either. Even though the stock market is in a boom, the shares of companies that present NFL games have declined between 1 and 8 percent over the past month. With ratings and attendance also down, the NFL may find itself in an unprofitable situation if social activism during games continues.
As for Trump, he knows that he can thrive on controversy. It helped him win in 2016 and it can help him as president. As the NFL and ESPN descend into focusing on politics from a liberal perspective, Trump might enjoy a short-term boost in popularity among his core supporters.
He’s also correct when he says athletes should stand during the national anthem.
John Graber ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in history and political science.