It’s hard to be surprised by Donald Trump. On any given day he tinkers around on Twitter with the nuclear annihilation of North Korea, then mocks the way people look, then retweets Neo-Nazi memes of himself assaulting and injuring Hillary Clinton. That’s an average day. None of it is normal or acceptable, but he appears intent on grinding us all down to a nub anyway.
Even though Trump habitually crosses lines, this past weekend was unique in that he appears to have become the first sitting President of the United States, to purposely, openly, call someone a “son of a bitch” on the mic, on national television, in the middle of a rally attended by thousands of his supporters. We’re not talking about a Joe Biden hot mic moment – this was intentional.
While Puerto Rico was without power and overwhelmed by flooding, Trump decided to fix his attention on NFL players who had decided to take a knee during the National Anthem to protest injustice, bigotry, and police brutality in America.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” the President bellowed at a rally for a special election for the former Senate seat held by Jeff Sessions in Alabama.
The crowd ate it up! And when Trump has a crowd eating out of the palm of his hand, he doubles down. By the end of the 90-minute ramble, it was like he was on the campaign trail again – with crowd literally chanting “Lock her up” while Trump played along and said they’d “have to ask Jeff Sessions” about it. And while the speech had plenty of foolishness worth calling out, it was his NFL remarks, targeting Colin Kaepernick and others, that ultimately went viral.
And they should have. It’s deeply disturbing that the harshest words he’s ever used in his presidency weren’t for Neo-Nazis or even his elected enemies, but peaceful, almost exclusively black, NFL stars taking a knee to bring attention to a cause they care about deeply. Trump went on to exclaim that any team owners who fired players who took a knee would become one of the most popular men in America.
Within minutes, I was outraged. Fellow activists followed. And it only crescendoed from there. Athletes and entertainers expressed their disgust. Soon, the remarks became a national, and even international, discussion – with people calling on NFL GM’s and owners to repudiate what Trump said.
And that’s where I have to pause.
Most NFL owners and GMs are unknown to everyday Americans. They don’t hold political rallies and their remarks are rarely covered by the media. But here’s the thing – what Trump said about NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem was hardly different from what NFL owners have not only said, but actually done to Colin Kaepernick.
One General Manager said that he estimated that approximately 70% of NFL GM’s “genuinely hate him and can’t stand what he did [kneeling for the national anthem]. They want nothing to do with him. They won’t move on. They think showing no interest is a form of punishment. I think some teams also want to use Kaepernick as a cautionary tale to stop other players in the future from doing what he did.”
That same GM went on to say that many of the remaining GM’s won’t touch Kaepernick because “Trump will tweet about the team.”
Another GM called Colin Kaepernick “a traitor.”
Another GM, speaking of Colin Kaepernick said “Fuck that guy. He has no respect for our country.”
Another GM said he would resign from his position if a team owner asked him to sign Kaepernick.
Yet another said, “In my career, I have never seen a guy so hated by front office guys as Kaepernick.”
Other GM’s said Colin Kaepernick was the most hated man in the league since Rae Caruth – who had his pregnant girlfriend murdered.
Of the seven GM’s interviewed by the Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, they each said they believed 90%-95% of other GM’s agreed with them.
That was a year ago. And in that year – what those GM’s predicted has come true – not a single team has signed Colin Kaepernick – not even for the league minimum. He wasn’t even given a workout by a team. He wasn’t given a backup or third string position. Even teams who desperately needed a starter or an experienced backup opted, in the words of Minneapolis sportswriter Jim Souhan, “for comfortable losses to uneasy victories.”
Colin Kaepernick has been effectively banned from the NFL by owners who hate who his guts like they do traitors and murderers.
That’s why what happened yesterday was perplexing. It was the largest single day of protest in NFL history. Instead of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, 19 teams had over 150 players who took a knee or had a seat during the National Anthem. Three teams opted to not come out for the National Anthem at all. And hundreds of other players on 28 different teams locked arms or showed solidarity in some other kind of way.
Feeling the heat from their own players, team after team, including ones with owners who’ve made million-dollar contributions to Trump, blasted his words at the Alabama rally in official press statements and tweeted infographics – all saying some version of how much they disagreed with Trump’s divisive tone or rhetoric. Other statements openly supported a player’s right to protest. Some team owners even decided to go down to the field to lock arms with their players as a form of solidarity.
And it was cute.
But Trump learned his disdain for protesting players from them. Long before he called them sons of bitches, they said “fuck” Colin Kaepernick and declared they’d leave before giving him a chance.
Nevermind that Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, the two best quarterbacks in the game, openly say Kaepernick should be in the league. Nevermind the fact that some teams are still winless with quarterbacks that are struggling through every single quarter. Before Trump said a single word in Alabama, those teams had already shut Colin Kaepernick out.
I spoke to hundreds of players over the weekend. What they did yesterday was genuine. But what most of those team owners and GM’s did was marketing. It was, in the words of ESPN’s Howard Bryant, “performance art.” It looked and felt real, but was as counterfeit as a $3 bill. These owners and GM’s put on a beautiful performance yesterday, but as long as Colin Kaepernick, in the prime of his physical career, is unemployed, they clearly lack the courage of their convictions.
He should’ve been on the field yesterday. It’s a grave injustice that he wasn’t. But this much is clear – his quiet bravery has sparked a movement that refuses to die.
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