“As far as these overpaid pro athletes disrespecting our country, it just makes me sick,” Whitaker said. He’s a fairly regular NFL watcher who envisions watching less regularly. “Right now, you know, these athletes that are on the public stage, the world stage, and disrespecting the flag and the country, I couldn’t care less about watching it now.”
He said, “When I saw what was going on, and the wide disrespect, from full teams, you know, not partaking in the national anthem as it plays before games, stuff like that, it really, it set bad on me. Because for as long as we’ve been a country, people have fought for the freedom of the country, and they’re disrespecting that. They’re able to do that and make the money that they make because of the people that have fought for the freedom of this country. Personally, I’d like to see them go to another country and pull it.
“I like it when the players were out there: both teams, on the sidelines, standing up, hand over heart, when the anthem is being played. I honestly think that 99 percent of the veterans out there would say the same thing, because they’re not just disrespecting the anthem. In my opinion, they’re disrespecting everyone that’s serving now, and everyone that has served before that.
.. “As far as the anthem thing, I think that we live in a free country, and I think that you have the right to express yourself, and the Constitution states that you do,” he said. “I don’t agree with it [the method of protest]. I don’t like it. I think that if you’re an American citizen, a professional athlete, especially in a country that pretty much is about the only country that football matters, I don’t see how you can disrespect our flag on a national stage, because you’ve been given that opportunity by this country to go out there and make that kind of money. That’s where I’m feeling.”
.. But he also said, “I get it, man. I mean, I get it. If I made millions of dollars and people wanted to hear what I had to say and I felt strongly about something, I’d probably use that stage to get my opinion across.”
“Are you criticizing Mike Tomlin?” No, no, no. I know what Mike Tomlin was trying to do by keeping the team in the locker room: Keep ’em away from the controversy. I totally understand that. Tomlin doesn’t want any part of this. It’s obvious. He doesn’t want some of his players going out there and doing whatever is fashionable to do now. He wanted to keep away from this. In fact, I kind of admire, “If this is what the pregame has become, we’re not gonna do the pregame.”
.. “I want to protect the players from having to make a choice.” Well, making a choice is what they’ve been doing. What he wanted to do was protect the Steelers organization from being part of this. That’s admirable.
I mean, he sees what’s going on; he sees it’s a distraction.
.. Lowry says, “He takes a commonly held sentiment — most people don’t like the NFL protests — and states it in an inflammatory way guaranteed to get everyone’s attention and generate outrage among his critics. When those critics lash back at him, Trump is put in the position of getting attacked for” defending America. There’s no way he loses. I don’t care what you all in the media think. I don’t care what Goodell thinks. You know, Goodell said, “I’ve never been prouder of our league than the way we handled this yesterday.”
.. the NFL, I actually think, is the useful idiots in the political battle that’s being waged with it, to it and against it. And I don’t know if they understand what’s happening, just like Hillary still doesn’t know what happened to her. I don’t know that the NFL understands what’s happening to it. I really don’t think they do.
.. When it starts to fade away, the first thing that happened to you if not careful is denial: “It’s temporary. We’ll get it back. It’s the hurricanes. It was the election.” But the numbers keep sliding. It wasn’t the hurricane. It wasn’t just the election. It’s something more basic. “Of course, NFL owners firing players on the spot for protesting isn’t necessarily common sense, but this is where ‘seriously, not literally’ comes in” with Trump.
.. “Trump’s statement registers for his supporters merely as forceful opposition to the protests, not as a specific plan of action.” Bingo. Bingo. Trump supporters to this day are not understood. They are still impugned and mocked and laughed at.
.. But they have grown tired of a country they love as being under assault as unjust or immoral or illegitimate. They’re fed up with it. Their president defends it, defends them. The specifics don’t matter. There is finally somebody speaking up for America. “But, Rush! But, Rush! The protesters are speaking up for America.” They may think so, but they’re not, in the eyes of most NFL fans. They’re not speaking up for America. This is not complicated, either.
.. “[W]hen Trump is criticized and doesn’t back down it is taken by his supporters as a sign of strength. If a political consultant came up with this strategy, he’d deserve a huge raise. But it’s just Trump himself operating on instinct.”
Rich Lowry, National Review: you don’t know what an admission, realization this is. This is essentially, I mean, why Donald Trump is president. Donald Trump instinctively knows where the heart of America is.
.. This is not player generated, player started. There are all kinds of activists behind this. And if their objective is to wound and weaken, diminish the NFL, the fastest away to do it is to encourage behavior that’s gonna drive the fan base away.
.. “I have friends who didn’t care for Trump at all who re-watched that rally in Alabama, and they’re laughing. They watch it over, they’re laughing each time. These people loved it, and they’re giving Trump amens and high fives, people that didn’t like Trump watched this rally.
.. The left is now out saying that if you don’t take the knee, you’re for Trump.
The average person knows this is silly, but now you’ve got minority voters who already realize that secular liberals are a bigger threat to them than Trump is. Trump never made ’em worry about taking their daughter into the bathroom at Target or any of this stuff. Now they just want to watch the game, and the entire left-wing complex is trying to tell ’em they have to pick a side. You have to pick the flag or you have to take a knee. You gotta pick a side, and all that’s gonna do is make people mad. They just want to watch football. They don’t want to pick a side. They don’t think this is where it should be.
Trump, in an Emperor Nero complaining about the desultory quality of the gladiators moment, also lamented in Alabama that the N.F.L. had become insufficiently violent.
.. It’s not clear how this plays with Goodell’s masters in N.F.L. ownership. They donated many millions to Trump’s presidential campaign; the New England Patriots’ owner, Robert K. Kraft, showered $1 million on the inaugural and has been a vocal ally; and the Patriots’ coach, Bill Belichick, wrote a letter endorsing him last fall.
.. To summarize this exquisite collision of sports, politics and business: The 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem last season, stirring a national debate about patriotism and the treatment of blacks by the police. For that, the N.F.L. owners appear to have blackballed him from the league this year. For that, more players have taken up Kaepernick’s cause. And for that, President Trump disparaged the league and challenged the owners to fire players for exercising their right to free speech — which they have effectively done to Kaepernick already.
And now Kaepernick’s once lonely protest suddenly has many more supporters.
.. They have been active citizens, and that is stirring. This cuts both ways. If an athlete were to engage in protests against, say, abortion or gay rights, that would be no less in keeping with our nation’s finest free speech traditions.
.. It’s striking how completely the president has stood this principle on its head. He taunted N.F.L. owners, urging them to fire players who engage in anthem protests.
“They’ll be the most popular person in this country,” Trump said, “because that’s a total disrespect of our heritage, that’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.”
.. The president’s invocation of heritage has become his favorite dog whistle; it also deeply misconstrues our traditions. I’ll recruit my departed father into this scrum. Like many young men of his generation, he volunteered to fight in World War II, and he flew missions on a B-17 bomber. Years later, when Vietnam and civil rights and labor struggles bubbled, and protesters sat out anthems and even burned flags, his view was unwavering: He had fought for an America in which citizens could speak and dissent freely and act morally.
.. Curry has not been as explicitly political as James in recent years, but he did not sidestep the moment. President Trump said he was barring Curry from the White House, but Curry had already made a case for not going.
“By acting and not going, hopefully that will inspire some change,” he said, “when it comes to what we tolerate in this country and what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye to.”
The president is an expert provocateur, and one does well not to underrate him. But notice how the athletes’ eyes are so wide open.