A year ago this would have been a column that would have been hard to fathom, but here we are. Apparently draining the swamp also meant taking on professional athletes.
Of all the problems facing this nation, one has to rank the conduct of professional athletes near the very top (I say with tongue firmly implanted in my cheek).
The latest saga came on Friday night, when the president said that NFL owners should fire players for kneeling during the national anthem and encouraged fans to walk out in protest.
“They’re ruining the game,” he complained. In a trend that began when former 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem last year, many other players have joined him in protest of treatment of minorities by the police.
The president complained that those players are disrespecting the flag and deserve to lose their jobs.
“That’s a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for,” he said.
Mr. Trump then encouraged his supporters to leave next time a player fails to stand. “I guarantee things will stop,” he said.
The comments naturally made national news and earned some harsh push back from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell who said the president’s criticism of NFL players showed a “lack of respect” for the league and its players.
He said, “The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month.
“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities,” the commissioner added.
But wait, that’s not all.
The Golden State Warriors were not sure that they wanted to accept a Trump invitation to visit the White House in honor their championship a few months ago.
President Trump did not give them the chance to decide.
“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” Trump wrote.
Steph Curry had remarked during Media Day that he did not want to attend the White House ceremony scheduled to commemorate the title.
“‘By acting and not going, hopefully that will inspire some change when it comes to what we tolerate in this country and what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye to,” Mr. Curry told reporters. ”It’s not just the act of not going. There are things you have to do on the back end to actually push that message into motion.”
The Golden State Warriors issued a statement later Saturday accepting Trump’s dis-invitation.
“While we intended to meet as a team at the first opportunity we had this morning to collaboratively discuss a potential visit to the White House, we accept that President Trump has made it clear that we are not invited,” the team said.
The team added that, while the team will not be visiting the White House, its players will still come to the nation’s capital in February “to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion — the values that we embrace as an organization.”
NBA star LeBron James probably had the line of the day in response, “So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”
Former Laker star Kobe Bryant also responded: “A #POTUS whose name alone creates division and anger. Whose words inspire dissension and hatred can’t possibly ‘Make America Great Again.’”
ESPN anchor Jemele Hill tweeted to Curry, “Hey @StephenCurry30, welcome to the club bro.”
President Trump had called on Ms. Hill to be fired after she tweeted her opinion about the president on Twitter last week. Her most pointed comment was, “Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime. His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period.”
A pointed op-ed appeared this weekend by professors Nicole Van Cleve (Temple University) and Rashawn Ray (University of Maryland) on the NBC News site, and several important points were made.
First, “What Trump and many NFL owners want fans to believe is that the players, many of whom are Black, are not impacted by the hostile political and racial climate of the United States.”
Second, “The broader narrative of the denial of players as people is a case study in the importance of stating, ‘Black Lives Matter’ and a reminder to the NFL that they have a responsibility to create a work environment that is hospitable rather than hostile to its employees.”
They point out that, after the shooting death of Philando Castile, they had a workshop where “Black athletes admitted to being traumatized by recent police shootings. Nearly all of them had a story about a near fatal police encounter where they were brutalized similar to (Michael) Bennett.”
One player told them “this happened while his mom was forced to watch helplessly from the car.”
“What if the NFL took the time to listen to its players without the threat of repercussion to their careers?” they ask. “By allowing Kaepernick’s silent protest to have such dire professional consequences, the NFL is creating a toxic work environment for its employees.”
It might be ironic, but it is possible that the external and over-the-top comments from President Trump will finally push the NFL “to acknowledge that social injustices centered on racism and police brutality affect its employees regardless of how much money they make or how they perform on any given Sunday.”
If anything, President Trump’s comment illustrates that the divide in this country is expanding, not contracting. And it even impacts professional athletes making millions. Responsible leadership would act to bring us together, not further divide us.
—David M. Greenwald reporting