The controversy over NFL players taking a knee or linking arms during the national anthem is splitting the nation in two. Is it Trump or the players who have created the political divide?
The controversy began in 2016 when San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem. Kaepernick justified his action by saying “America refuses to address the pervasive evil of white cops killing black men, and I will not stand during a national anthem that honors the flag of such a country.”
The end result for Kaepernick is that he was voted the “most disliked” player in the NFL. Fans burned his uniform and no NFL team offered him a contract.
Kaepernick was not the first NFL quarterback to “take a knee.” Former Heisman Trophy quarterback Tim Tebow of the University of Florida and several NFL teams, was known for taking a knee. Tebow would bow his head, put his arm on his knee and pray. Tebow’s pose became known as “Tebowing.”
Fans loved Tebow’s faith and piety; they despised Kaepernick’s perceived lack of patriotism.
The issue peaked this week when President Donald Trump spoke at a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama, for GOP Senate candidate Luther Strange. Anyone not respecting the flag, said Trump, is a “son of a bitch who ought to be kicked off the field and fired by the team’s owners.” If not, fans should boycott the NFL.
This past Sunday, some 200 NFL players, owners and coaches knelt or linked arms during the national anthem. Trump tweeted: “Standing with linked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable.”
The players, owners, media and pundit class uniformly panned Trump’s statements. Was the outcry justified?
Perhaps, but I did not see one fan in the stands taking a bent knee in solidarity with the players. And, if millions of American families who have buried a loved one in a flag-draped casket after their family member made the ultimate sacrifice, it is not hard to understand their displeasure at multimillionaire NFL players refusing to respect the flag or anthem.
Virtually every Democrat in the Florida congressional delegation criticized President Trump for his decisive comments. No one, especially the president of the United States, should refer to fellow citizens as “sons of a bitches.”
On the other hand, it is not difficult to see why Florida congressman Brian Mast, a double-leg amputee from his service in Afghanistan, is upset by players who take a knee to protest the national anthem and feel that they “should already be gone.” Joining Mast in opposition to the kneelers was Republican congressman Matt Gaetz, who tweeted, “#StandForOurAnthem.”
President Trump’s expletives have no place in our political dialogue. On the other hand, isn’t there a better way for protestors to make their point than by showing what many believe to be disrespect for the flag, the national anthem, and those who have paid a far greater price than any NFL player?
Darryl Paulson is emeritus professor of government at USF St. Petersburg.