Last week, I wrote that politics and sports are ultimately inseparable.
With a fiery speech in Alabama on Friday, President Trump has illustrated that point perfectly.
I covered then-candidate Trump’s rallies in South Carolina, and there’s no doubting he’s good at it. He commanded the attention of everyone. For his base, he was simply electric.
So, it should be expected that once he got elected and figured out governing wasn’t as easy as yelling on a stage and tweeting, he would stay in campaign mode.
And so, the never-ending election campaign continued Friday. Speaking in front of the core of his base in a state that he carried with 62 percent of the vote, Trump needed something to fire them up, an easy target. How about, to paraphrase, “rich, overpaid and spoiled” NFL athletes who kneel for the national anthem?
Trump made his thoughts on the subject quite clear, posing this question to his supporters: Wouldn’t you want one of the NFL owners to say, “Get that (S.O.B.) off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!”
Certainly, Trump has not been alone in his call for a boycott of the NFL because he and others see these players’ actions as blatant disrespect of the American flag and the men and women who fight and have fought for it.
To hear Trump say it, their actions are devoid of patriotism. It’s “a total disrespect for our heritage,” as he puts it.
These kinds of statements are common today when we talk about players kneeling before the flag, along with the “spoiled, rich athlete” digs and the go-to “They get paid to play a game,” pushback.
Yes, that’s partially true. They get paid to play a game and many of the athletes are spoiled and rich.
But let’s consider for a minute the hypocrisy of Trump’s statements and many of those who cheer when they’re blurted out.
We have a multi-billionaire who, prior to being elected, lived in a luxurious, towering skyscraper in Manhattan, isolated in the upper floors away from the common people, calling other people spoiled and rich. He fires off nice applause lines about these athletes’ apparent assault on American patriotism and disrespect of those who have served their country. But neither he nor those who cheer him loudest see anything wrong with attacking a Gold Star family or Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War veteran.
Why? Well, because he likes people who weren’t captured.
But let’s not go too much further down the rabbit hole.
Many of the president’s critics contend Trump is using this issue as a distraction from his party’s latest poorly-written bill to reform health care floundering, or that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is reportedly now focusing on some of his actions.
They say he should focus on other more important issues.
I get it, but I have no problem with the president addressing issues like this. To not say anything would be sticking one’s head in the sand.
It’s the manner in which he did it that is the problem. There is no place for the president of the United States to be referring to someone who peacefully exercises their First Amendment right as an S.O.B.
Rather than attempting to listen, he’s trying to delegitimize their thoughts, perhaps for the thrill of applause.
Rather than trying to encourage dialogue, he wants to shut it down and drive a stake further between people who think differently. He wants to make it a case of “us vs. them.”
This is not an us-vs.-them issue.
As I’ve said before, I believe in standing for the American flag and the ideals it represents. But one of those is the right to protest. It’s disingenuous to say the flag is symbolic of your right to protest, but don’t protest.
I also recognize my American experience is different from others. Governments are run by humans — all of them flawed, some deeply flawed and some not decent at all. Because of the latter especially, groups of people have suffered.
Discrimination in the history of this country isn’t something that can be hidden from. Things are better, but they’re not where they need to be.
That is the point these athletes are trying to make. This is not about disrespecting the flag and never has been. It’s about something far greater.
What needs to happen now is we all should be having conversations about the issues they’re attempting to bring awareness to, and more importantly, we should be developing plans for how we can try to fix them.
Several of the athletes — including Colin Kaepernick, who got the ball rolling on this — have already donated money to underserved communities. I hope more will continue to be active in their communities. At some point, this all has to go beyond taking a knee on the sideline.
In times like these, we should be able to count on our president and leaders to help foster these conversations and actions. But all we can expect from Trump, as seen and heard once again last week, is more petulance. If he can’t start acting like a leader and being more inclusive, maybe he should be fired.
Scott Thompson is the editor of the Barrow News-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.