Trump’s Football Follies
So, not being a football fan, I guess I’m not feeling the controversy over the kneeling business. I don’t like the virtue signaling of the gesture, but I think it’s beyond ridiculous that the President of the United States has made an issue of it. It unnerves me to think that on the same weekend that the president taunted Kim Jong Un on Twitter — a pointless, juvenile conflict that could spiral out of control into actual war — the only thing the people of the United States (and the news media) wanted to talk about was what he said about football players.
I guess the culture war is more important to Americans than nuclear war. Note that only 37 percent of Americans have confidence that the Commander In Chief can be trusted to handle North Korea — the crackpot commie country whose leadership he keeps poking with a stick.
I am on my way to Arkansas, where I’ll be appearing Tuesday night with Michael Wear at John Brown University. We’ll be talking about faith and public life at 6:30pm; the public is welcome. See here for more details. Because I’ll be on planes and in a rental car for most of the rest of the day, I’ll open the thread up for reader commentary on the football/kneeling topic.
My view is that the country is so divided already over issues that really matter; why on earth would any president wish to make it worse? Secondly, if we are going to go to pieces over Colin Kaepernick’s gesture, how would we feel if Tim Tebow took a knee to protest the mass slaughter of the unborn in the US?
I think using singing the National Anthem as a protest gesture — no matter the righteousness of your cause — is a bad idea. And I’m not a fan of the Black Lives Matter movement per se. But because I would strongly sympathize with NFL players who took a knee over abortion violence, even though I would not join them, I can’t see where I have grounds to begrudge Kaepernick and his comrades their protest. I may not like to see it, but I can tolerate it, and respect their right to silently protest. Suck it up, snowflakes; this is America, not the People’s Republic of Berkeley.
It frustrates me that Kaepernick and Trump have now made professional football and the National Anthem a culture-war battlefield. But Colin Kaepernick conducts himself with dignity, and more to the point, he is not the President of the United States. To whom much is given, much is expected.
I wish to associate myself with David French’s remarks, especially these:
He told his political opponents on the football field — men who have defined their lives and careers by their mental and physical toughness — to essentially, “Do what I say or lose your job.” In so doing, he put them in straits far more difficult to navigate than anything Colin Kaepernick has wrought: Stand and they are seen to obey a man who just abused his office, and millions of Americans will view them as a sellout not just to the political cause they love but also to the Constitution itself; kneel and they defy a rogue president, but millions of Americans will view them as disrespecting the nation itself to score political points against a president those Americans happen to like.
At one stroke, thanks to an attempted vulgar display of strength, Trump changed the playing of the anthem and the display of the flag from a moment where all but the most radical Americans could unite to one where millions of well-meaning Americans could and did legitimately believe that the decision to kneel represented a defense of the ideals of the flag, not defiance of the nation they love. If we no longer fight to secure the same rights for others that we demand for ourselves, we become more tribal, and America becomes less exceptional.
So, yes, I understand why they knelt. I understand why men who would never otherwise bring politics onto the playing field — and never had politicized sports before — felt that they could not be seen to comply with a demagogue’s demands. I understand why even owners who gave millions to Trump expressed solidarity with their players. I understand why even Trump supporters like Rex Ryan were appalled at the president’s actions. I fear that those who proclaimed yesterday’s events a “win” for the president — after all, many of the players were booed for their stance, and in American politics you generally don’t want to be seen as taking sides against the flag — are missing the forest for the trees. If we lose respect for the First Amendment, then politics becomes purely about power. If we no longer fight to secure the same rights for others that we demand for ourselves, we become more tribal, and America becomes less exceptional.
It’s true. Only Donald Trump could make taking a knee during the National Anthem a patriotic thing to do.