Over the past few days, President Donald Trump has gotten the attention of the sports world with comments and a tweet aimed at athletes that, to no one’s surprise, were unrestrained, largely inaccurate, and showed the public servant’s proclivity to taking things personally.
On Friday, during a speech in Alabama, Trump expressed his sentiments about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of those NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now,’” said the president. “Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”
Ignoring that saying an NFL player should be “fired” is akin to Ted Cruz’s word choice of “basketball ring,” it’s not encouraging to see Trump use more contemptuous language toward these athletes than toward, say, neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.
His comments have only increased solidarity among NFL players, with many of them responding on Twitter. The league is known for its draconian regulations aimed at keeping it apolitical, so it’s especially striking to see Bills star running back LeSean Mccoy call the president “an asshole.”
On Sunday, prior to a game between the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars in Wembley Stadium in London, members of both teams linked arms together and kneeled during the anthem, shrugging off team allegiances for a few minutes to express their discontent.
On Saturday night, Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to kneel during the anthem. Maxwell disagreed that the act of kneeling was disrespecting the flag.
“The point of my kneeling is not to disrespect our military, it’s not to disrespect our constitution, it’s not to disrespect this country,” he said. “My hand over my heart symbolizes the fact that I am and I’ll forever be an American citizen, and I’m more than grateful to be here. But my kneeling is what is getting the attention because I’m kneeling for the people that don’t have a voice.”
The president has managed to broaden the opposition against him in professional sports, and Maxwell, who grew up in a U.S. Military installation in Germany while his father served, and who has said in the past that playing on the Fourth of July is a huge honor, is a sound embodiment of the situation.
Later in his speech, the president talked about how NFL ratings have dipped because of increased player safety rules, saying that today’s players are too soft. The comments were, as usual, ill-timed, considering that the late NFL player Aaron Hernandez was found to have CTE, a degenerative brain disease found in many former NFL players who died at an early age.
There is no evidence of a link between the disease and Hernandez’s criminal actions, including the murder of Odin Lloyd, but the fact remains that Hernandez played his last NFL game at age 23 and had already developed into the advanced stages of CTE by his death at age 27. Trump thinks this can be circumvented in the same way as the North Korea situation — with a heaping dose of toxic masculinity.
Early on Saturday, Trump set his sights on another league when he “rescinded” his invitation to the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors to the White House.
“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!”
Curry wasn’t hesitating. He said on Friday that, if the Warriors were to be invited to the White House, he would decline the invitation. As a few NBA players have noted, Trump’s withdrawal of the invitation is akin to a “You can’t fire me! I quit” situation, only it somehow manages to come off even more like a childish tantrum.
Among the numerous response tweets by NBA players, the most notable has come from Lebron James, whose voice carries all the authority afforded by his Kingly title.
“U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!” James tweeted.
Within half a day, the tweet had over 1.1 million likes and 550,000 retweets, both the most ever by a professional athlete.
A heavily branded athlete directly calling the president a bum is a prudent indicator of the times. There is a lack of precedence for outcry like this, but James’s tweet, along with further comments he made in an unstructured video later that day, already have and will continue to encourage further outspokenness among professional athletes.
Within 48 hours, Trump succeeded in drawing unapologetic ire from two major sports leagues, while conjuring up a breakthrough in a third. Professional athletes are a contingent of well-known personalities that have traditionally been more associated with promoting Gatorade than with touting social reform. So if this veil of opinion, which was ripped by the likes of Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is fully lifted, the president will have no one to blame but himself.
And perhaps the country will be the better for it in the long run, considering the current agenda of these athletes.