If President Donald Trump wanted to win support for athletes who sit, kneel or skip the national anthem before games, he couldn’t have found a better way than his combination of speech vulgarity and aggressive tweeting in the opening days of 5778.
Even while millions of American citizens were reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, while others were still assessing the damage and cleaning up from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, while Mexico (with the help of Israel Defense Forces emergency responders) was searching for survivors from an earthquake that killed more than 300 people (including Rabbi Haim Ashkenazi), and while dangerous, nuclear-tinged confrontations with North Korea and Iran continued to percolate, Trump turned his attention to the scattered players who have followed Colin Kaepernick’s lead in protesting during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said during a campaign rally for Sen. Luther Strange in Huntsville, Ala., on Friday, Sept. 22.
He followed up over the weekend with tweets about players making millions of dollars as professional athletes not being allowed to disrespect the flag or the country by kneeling during the anthem. He called for firing or suspending players who don’t stand, criticized the inaction of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (a man worthy of criticism for so many other things, such as covering up the deadly brain damage players sustain to make him rich and famous), urged fans to boycott the NFL and called the league boring (a fair charge many weeks, but not in Week 3, when two games went to overtime and several others, including the Falcons’ 30-26 win over the Lions, were decided on the last play of the game).
We don’t think the protests of the national anthem make sense. By their nature, they draw more attention to the protesters than to the issues motivating them, which themselves seem to be a muddled mess, from deadly police brutality to Kaepernick’s unemployment. And there’s a difference between respectful actions, such as taking a knee in silence, and the exaggerated stretching routine Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy employed during the anthem Sunday, Sept. 24.
Ratings for NFL football are way down except before game starts, when people tune in to see whether or not our country will be disrespected!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
What American troops have fought and died for aren’t symbols such as the flag and the anthem, but the freedoms they represent. NFL players are demonstrating those hard-won rights in increasing numbers, thanks to Trump’s efforts to stop them.
Amid the divisiveness over the anthem protests, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank stepped forward as a true leader before Sunday’s game in Detroit. He joined his players on the sidelines before the kickoff and locked arms with them in solidarity while all but two stood for the anthem.
It’s a shame that Trump hasn’t learned from his Jewish daughter and in-laws about the importance of using the Days of Awe to practice humility and seek forgiveness from people you have wronged. But at least he can look to the righteous example of Blank and other Jewish NFL owners who stood up for their employees’ exercise of their First Amendment rights.