Anyone who has followed the NFL protests knows that compared to when they first began with Colin Kaepernick in 2016, they have greatly simmered down this season. A sprinkle of players kept the movement going by continuing to take a knee during the national anthem or raise a fist, but the topic has been nowhere near as prevalent as it was last season when Kaepernick was playing for the 49ers. This was true up until now.
It is week three of the NFL regular season, and the dominating headlines are not star player spotlights or game predictions, but instead how teams and players have responded to the comments made by Donald Trump this past Friday. In a nut shell, Trump basically said that the NFL should fire players who refuse to stand for the national anthem. His comments received both backlash and support, and left many wondering how players would react.
Contrary to many other NFL teams last season, the Chargers were never really overt when it came to taking a position about protesting during the national anthem. They continued the trend of laying low this season with no players protesting. Clearly, Trump’s remarks struck a nerve because the Los Angeles Chargers decided to join the many other teams across the league in an act of blatant defiance to the ridiculous statements made by him.
During the national anthem, Chargers’ players linked arms as a show of unity, and a couple raised their fists. In addition, Brandon Mebane, Darius Philon, Damion Square, Chris McCaine, and Tenny Palepoi chose to either sit or kneel. Chargers owner Dean Spanos also made a statement opposing Trump’s point of view by saying, “What our country needs right now is a message of unity, civility and mutual respect.” By saying what we need, Spanos is in a way implying that Trump’s comments suggest quite the opposite.
After today’s game, Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Chris McCain did not shy away from expressing how he feels about Trump. While talking to the media, he said, “He is not on our side.” Much like other players affiliated with the protest, McCain made it known that his choice to kneel is not intended to be a sign of disrespect, but rather a peaceful and symbolic way to oppose social injustice.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended Trump and said, “they can do free speech on their own time.” No doubt this is an example of how amendments and laws are loosely interpreted and bent to be convenient to a particular group. Since when is free speech seen as something that should be conditional? Mnuchin’s statement is probably supported by people who believe that athletes should leave their political thoughts outside of the stadium, field, court, or whatever sporting location. Essentially, it is like saying players should somehow turn off their humanity before they enter a sporting environment, and they can turn it back on once the game ends and they have finished entertaining the crowd.
The irony of all this is what makes this topic that much more compelling. It has been controversial for athletes to talk politics, but here we have the biggest figure associated with American politics inserting himself into the sporting arena. Eric Ebron of the Detroit Lions tweeted, “Does anyone tell trump to stick to politics, like they tell us to stick to sports?” What a great point.
Trump should have bigger things to worry about than players taking a knee. They are not burning the flag or anything crazy. The protest is not even about the flag, the anthem, or being anti-American. It is a symbolic gesture meant to bring attention to social issues. People have completely distorted the true meaning of the protest.
Before Trump’s criticism of the NFL, the flame of the protest was dying down. The fire is now re-lit and I for one am glad to finally see the Los Angeles Chargers taking a clear stance. People in the audience booed the protest, but hopefully the Chargers players do not allow themselves to be intimidated. It already took them long enough to take a stand, so now is the time to follow through.
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