By his two tweets, the president signaled that for a third straight season he would stoke the divisive issue he first fanned as a candidate just before the 2016 election. Yet again, Trump ignored both the complaints of racial injustice and police brutality that many African American players have sought to highlight by kneeling during the pre-game anthem, and their free-speech rights.
Instead the president, who typically has suggested the players are against the anthem, the American flag and the U.S. military, in his latest attack portrayed them as ungrateful for the opportunity to play in the NFL. In doing so, he exaggerated their overall share of league proceeds.
“The NFL players are at it again — taking a knee when they should be standing proudly for the National Anthem,” Trump tweeted. “Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their ‘outrage’ at something that most of them are unable to define. They make a fortune doing what they love … … ”
His second tweet continued: “ … .Be happy, be cool! A football game, that fans are paying soooo much money to watch and enjoy, is no place to protest. Most of that money goes to the players anyway. Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!”
At a time when the president faces a range of political and legal controversies — not least the ongoing Russia probe implicating him, his family and close associates — the new NFL season brings Trump an opportunity to renew attention on his ongoing feud with the African American players, a wedge issue that animates a number of his white voters heading into the November midterm elections.
Trump’s focus on the divisive tactic — at a rally last fall for an Alabama Republican he referred to a hypothetical protesting player as a “son of a … ” — has forced the NFL, a multibillion-dollar business, to react to satisfy a suddenly divided fan base as well as a president who’s a friend to several team owners.
In May, the league announced a policy that all players must stand during the anthem, or else remain in the locker room without penalty. Yet the policy, considered by many to be a concession to the president, was later put on hold after Trump mocked it on Twitter.
In July, the NFL Players Association and the league said in a joint statement that they agreed to halt enforcement of the anthem policy while they two sides work on a resolution.
Trump’s Friday tweets came amid new accusations of racism against him. He drew widespread criticism after a tweet last weekend in which he attacked the intelligence of two prominent African Americans, NBA star LeBron James and CNN anchor Don Lemon. And a report on Friday by the Guardian said former White House aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman, in her forthcoming memoir, asserts that Trump has used racial slurs and that she left her job because of such racism.
The latest outburst also comes on the one-year anniversary of a violent clash between white nationalists and anti-racism counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va. Trump was widely assailed, including by Republican officials and business associates, when he initially declined to condemn the racists and then blamed people “on both sides” after a neo-Nazi drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman.
White nationalists are planning to commemorate the Charlottesville rally with a “Unite the Right” rally in Washington’s Lafayette Square, directly across from the White House, on Sunday. The president is not scheduled to return to the White House until Monday night, following an 11-day vacation.
Responding to Trump’s latest tweets, African American player Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints wrote on Twitter as if to Trump: “Guy who won the presidential election … how about we get a statement on the ‘unite the right’ rally 2 being held in DC this weekend … a yr after the first one in Charlottesville???”
While the president has continually ignored the players’ explanations of their protests, he has eagerly highlighted violence in mostly African American inner cities, especially in Chicago, often as a rationale for a stronger police response.
On Thursday, during a meeting at his Bedminster, N.J., golf resort that was mostly focused on criminal justice reform, Trump referred again to Chicago and a recent spate of shootings there, blaming the city’s Democratic leadership and citing it as reason to “strengthen community bonds with law enforcement.”
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