Trump takes aim at sports world
POTUS’s comments over the weekend generate criticism from NFL and NBA players
Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States of America, has made a habit of sparking a firestorm with just a phrase or two. He demonstrated as much again last weekend, directing criticism toward both the NFL and the NBA during a speech in Alabama.
The first targets for President Trump, who was in Alabama to endorse conservative politician Luther Strange, were the NFL’s most politically minded players. Starting with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick early last season, the league has seen dozens of black players raise a fist in the air or take a knee during the national anthem before games. The demonstrations are meant to show support for minorities and especially black Americans facing instances of police violence and other forms of social and racial injustice.
Trump made it clear that he believed these players were stepping out of line in speaking out.
“Wouldn’t you just 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!’” Trump said. The president punctuated the remark with a jerk of his thumb backwards, a gesture left over from his days as host of the reality show The Apprentice.
Language aside, the comment was an explicit remark in opposition of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, and the sports world quickly took to social media to respond.
“The behavior of the President is unacceptable and needs to be addressed,” Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) said on Twitter. “If you do not condemn this divisive Rhetoric you are Condoning it!!”
Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas urged players to continue to speak up. “Continue to use your voices and your platforms for racial equality and to stop injustices in our communities,” Thomas (@Michael31Thomas) said. “This is bigger than us!!!”
Others noted discrepancies between President Trump’s vocal treatment of NFL players and his highly-criticized response to violent marches in Charlottesville, Virginia that included prominent white supremacist groups.
“So Trumpster is more mad at ‘son of a bi!@&’ athletes than he was the neo-nazi’s in Charlottesville,” former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Lance Moore (@LanceMoore16) said. “How am I not surprised?”
Owners across the NFL, many of whom were prominent financial supporters of the Trump campaign last year, also released statements in response to the speech.
New York Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, and Green Bay Packers CEO Matt Murphy were among the executives who faulted the president, using words like “inappropriate,” “callous,” and “offensive” to decry his words.
Students at USD such as senior Alex Spilde said they were ashamed by the president’s comments, seeing the speech as part of a larger problem within the administration.
“Trump makes me embarrassed,” Spilde said. “The president is supposed to represent the people yet continues to use rhetoric that alienates our country’s citizens.”
President Trump took to Twitter himself to respond to the criticism.
“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem,” President Trump (@realDonaldTrump) said. “If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
The tweet created further concern over the president’s political proficiency, suggesting that the monetary wealth of players in the NFL may be used as a means of restricting their right to free speech.
He continued his rhetoric on the social media site later in the day, encouraging football fans to stay at home on Sundays.
“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast,” President Trump said. “…NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.”
The war of words on social media was followed Sunday by a powerful show of solidarity across the league, as more than 100 players knelt or locked arms during pregame anthems. That number included athletes on several teams, such as the Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Tennessee Titans, who collectively decided to stay in the locker room during the anthem.
The demonstrations were met with boos from some fans in attendance.
However, kneeling players were not the only targets of President Trump’s inflammatory remarks.
While it is traditional for championship sports teams to visit the White House and meet the Commander in Chief after their win, the practice has involved greater deliberation following the election of President Trump.
After Stephen Curry, the star point guard of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, expressed reluctance about making the trip to Washington D.C., President Trump again let his thumbs do the talking, taking to Twitter to make an announcement regarding the Warriors’ impending visit.
“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team,” President Trump said. “Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”
In a news conference following the Warriors’ first practice of the preseason, Curry spoke to media members about his surprise over being singled out.
“Surreal,” Curry said. “I don’t know why he feels the need to target certain individuals rather than others. I have an idea of why, but it’s kind of beneath the leader of a country to go that route. It’s not what leaders do.”
Mere hours after the president’s comments about NFL players, his message to Curry only intensified the criticism from athletes and teams across the country.
Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James offered perhaps the most striking response, taking apparent aim on Twitter at President Trump’s competence as a national leader.
“U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going!” James (@KingJames) said. “So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up.”
The Warriors organization also released a statement later in the day acknowledging the circumstances of President Trump’s message.
“We believe there is nothing more American than our citizens having the right to express themselves freely on matters important to them,” the statement said. “We’re disappointed that we did not have an opportunity during this process to share our views or have open dialogue on issues impacting our communities that we felt would be important to raise.”
USD students such as senior Jeremy Rutigliano, meanwhile, were disappointed by the entirety of Trump’s tweet-ridden morning, implying a disregard of other, seemingly larger issues to be handled by the administration.
“Shouldn’t the president have more pressing concerns than tweet-shaming Steph Curry?” Rutigliano said.
Steve Kerr, an NBA veteran and the Warriors’ current head coach, offered perhaps the best context for the contentious weekend in a conversation with ESPN.
“The last time athletes have been this outspoken was with Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell,” Kerr said, referring to the politically charged America of the 1960s and ‘70s. “That’s the last time probably we’ve seen this kind of division in the country and with civil rights issues. Now all of a sudden, our country is in a really weird place, and everything is blending together.”
Already a magnet for race-related tensions, it is clear that President Trump angered many by taking aim this past weekend at two sports with predominantly black demographics. The NFL is almost 70 percent black and the NBA is more than 74 percent black, according to ESPN partner The Undefeated.
It is also clear that athletes across the sports landscape, under heavier criticism of late for not sticking to their jobs in sports, are in no hurry to stop standing up for issues they feel deserve a louder voice and a more prominent platform.
Noah Hilton | Sports Editor | The USD Vista