Who does Donald Trump hate? Mike Allen of Axios recently posted a list of people Trump has insulted or attacked on Twitter, either as a candidate or as president. It’s a long list of just about anybody but white, Christian, straight men.
The list includes: Women, journalists, Gold Star parents, Jews (after Charlottesville), the pope, all Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ Americans, the cast of “Hamilton,” Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Jeff Sessions, Hillary Clinton, African-Americans, Latinos, the president of South Korea, the British and Snoop Dogg.
Now you can add to the list: NFL players, a handful of whom had refused to stand, or decided to “take a knee” during the singing of the national anthem. At a campaign rally in Alabama, standing behind the presidential seal, Trump actually called them “sons of b—-es,” accused them of not loving their country, demanded that they all be fired and urged fans to boycott NFL games.
How does the president of the United States – facing a critical Senate vote on health care, a key Republican primary in Alabama, a stalled effort for tax reform, and devastation in Puerto Rico – find time to declare war on the NFL? Good question. No sane president would bother. But this is Donald Trump.
No matter why he decided to go there, Trump’s vicious attack on the NFL had the exact opposite effect he intended. His remarks were universally condemned by players, owners, sports commentators and fans. Instead of just a handful, more than 200 players last weekend, joined by 30 out of 32 team owners, took a knee, sat on the bench, raised a fist, locked arms, or simply stayed off the field during the national anthem. King LeBron James called Trump a “bum.”
Of course, Trump denies his comments have anything to do with race, which is a hard argument to make, considering he attacked NFL players, 70 percent of whom are black, and who were protesting police brutally against African-Americans. He chose to make his remarks in Alabama, where he knows most of his racist supporters would rather see something far worse done to a black man than being fired. And he later accused team owners of going along with the protests only because they were “afraid of the players.” And this comes just weeks after Trump praised the “very fine” people among members of the Ku Klux Klan protesting in Charlottesville. Bring out the dog whistle.
Instead, like every racist before him, and every former slave owner, Trump tries to wrap his racism in the American flag, insisting that kneeling, sitting, not showing up, or doing anything other than standing at attention during the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” shows disrespect for the military and the flag. On which point, he’s dead wrong. If the flag stands for anything, if our men and women in uniform are fighting for anything, it’s the right to protest, including not standing for the national anthem.
The history of athletes using the airing of the national anthem to protest racial injustice didn’t start with Colin Kaepernick. It’s as old as professional sports itself, amplified by the raised fist, black power salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. It’s a legitimate, 100 percent American form of protest, perhaps best summed up in the lament: “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world.” Sports legend Jackie Robinson penned those words in 1972.
For all the controversy he’s stirred up, however, Donald Trump’s latest cultural war misses the point: Why does every NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS game begin with the national anthem, in the first place? The practice only started in World War II. Now it’s become obligatory. Not only that, the Pentagon pays for some 850 flyovers a year at sporting events because they think it helps recruitment.
Enough already. Get the Pentagon and the flag out of football. There is ZERO connection between professional sports and the flag, or between being a Patriots, Redskins, or Nats fan and loving our country. The sooner we get rid of the national anthem at sports events, the better. We don’t sing it before the opera, ballet, rock concerts or Broadway shows. Are opera patrons not also patriots?
Meanwhile, let’s cut to the chase. Halloween came early this year. What we learned about Trump in Charlottesville was confirmed by his attacks on NFL players: Donald Trump is a racist masquerading as a patriot.