NFL’s ‘Sons of Bitches’ Band Together to Defy Forced Obedience

Courtesy of Yusuf Abdullah

The response this weekend by NFL players and other professional athletes to President Trump’s attacks on their right to protest could best be summed up by a comment from a Twitter user going by the name of Frederick Douglass: “Sons of bitches join up with the nasty women and bad hombres and take back our country.”

Those “sons of bitches,” as referred to by Trump during a rally in Alabama on Friday, describe NFL players who kneel or sit during the national anthem prior to games, following the example of former San Francisco 49ers quarterbck Colin Kaepernick who began the protest last year to highlight injustices and police brutality against minorities, including Black men callously killed by police.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said in 2016. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

But unlike the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who protested in Charlottesville and, according to the president, included some “very fine people,” any NFL player who dares protest is a “son of a bitch” who should be fired.

Beyond his statement, Trump later tweeted: “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

“I’m ok for being fired for what I believe in,” tweeted Green Bay Packers’ Martellus Bennett. “The idea of @realDonaldTrump thinking that suggesting firing me from football, confirms that he thinks that it’s all I can do as a Black man”

“What an emphatic response,” replied Denver Broncos’ Max Garcia. “Where was this passion in response to Charlottesville?”

Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy told radio station WKBW he “can’t stand and support something where our leader of this country is … acting like a jerk, angry and upset about NFL players protesting in a peaceful manner.”

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith questioned Trump’s motivations. “I don’t always feel comfortable talking about a lot of this stuff. We’re athletes, we’re playing football. But certainly I’d be lying if I said the comments didn’t upset me,” Smith said, according to the Kansas City Star. “It’s the same guy who couldn’t condemn violent neo-Nazis. And he’s condemning guys taking a knee during the anthem. The league’s not perfect. But … there are so many good things, great things that go on in this league. … It struck a chord a little bit to see guys get attacked for a peaceful protest.”

“There is inequality out there,” Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman told The Associated Press. “There isn’t liberty and justice for all, and I think guys for a while, at least a year now, have been protesting that by taking a knee, sitting down, putting up the fist … but their voices were watered down.”

“We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country,” the Seahawks players said in their statement. “Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms.”

Sunday’s first NFL game, between Jacksonville and Baltimore, was being played in London and by 9:30 am ET had the largest number of players to date kneeling during the anthem.

By the afternoon, more than 200 NFL players representing all 28 teams that played Sunday either sat or kneeled during the national anthem prior to their respective games.

The AP said its reporters and photographers counted the players kneeling or sitting at every game Sunday, estimating about one in eight players did not stand. Many others displayed some form of protest, including raising their fists or locking arms in solidarity. Last week, only six NFL players protested, the AP said.

Three teams chose to remain in their locker rooms during the Star Spangled Banner. Some of the protesting players were white, but the overwhelming majority were Black. According to the NFL, about 70 percent of the league’s players are Black.

“Me taking a knee doesn’t change the fact that I support our military, I’m a patriot and I love my country,” Buffalo Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander told the AP. “But I also recognize there are some social injustices in this country and today I wanted to take a knee in support of my brothers who have been doing it. … I just wanted to show them that I was with them today, especially in the backdrop of our president making the comments about our players, about their mothers. And then you put that in conjunction with how he tried to gray-area Nazism and KKK members as being fine people, I had to take a knee.”

“We stand with our brothers,” Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said, according to the AP. “They have the right and we knelt with them today. To protest, non-violent protest, is as American as it gets, so we knelt with them today to let them know that we’re a unified front.”

In a statement, the Washington Redskins players said, “Football has always served as the great unifier, bringing people together to celebrate the values of courage, commitment and achievement.” Redskins tight-end Vernon Davis, told NBC News that, if invited, he would visit the White House and tell Trump: “We love the flag. Let’s focus on solutions rather than attack those protesting.”

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who did three tours in Afghanistan, stood in the tunnel with his hand over heart during the anthem while the rest of his team remained in the locker room. The Tennessee Titans and Seahawks were the other two teams to do so.

Player reactions ran the gamut from responding to Trump and calling for unity.

“More than ever we remain committed to advocacy 4 equality & social justice 4 all! @Eaglesfans Join us in locking arms 4 unity in our city!”  tweeted Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.

“I’ve been raised the right way. I know what’s right and what’s wrong. Ain’t nobody ever going to scare me. I don’t care if he’s the president or not. You ain’t my president,” New York Giants’ Olivier Vernon told AP.

“There’s nothing that we’re saying we disrespect our country,” added teammate Landon Collins. “It hurt me to take a knee. I was about to break down in tears. I love this country. But at the same time we respect each other, and we have a family over here, and we’re gonna fight for each other.”

“We felt like President Trump’s speech was an assault on our most cherished right, freedom of speech,” said Denver Broncos’ Von Miller.

Detroit Lions’ Eric Ebron said, “Does anyone tell Trump to stick to politics like they tell us to stick to sports?”

“Shaking my head in awe because Kaepernick is exercising his right as an American citizen to protest,” said Minnesota Vikings’ Bishop Sankey.

New England Patriots quarterback and Trump friend Tom Brady finally weighed in on Monday. “I certainly disagree with what [Trump] said. I thought it was just divisive … Like I said, I just want to support my teammates. I am never one to say, ‘Oh, that is wrong. That is right.’ I do believe in what I believe in. I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust. Those are the values that my parents instilled in me,” he told Boston’s WEEI radio.

NFL players kneelFormer NFL player and CNN Sports anchor Coy Wire said players’ actions are making a difference. “I talked to Michael Bennett, he is a Seahawks player, he’s been on the forefront of players kneeling during national anthem and taking a stand against racial and social injustice. He told me this was never about disrespecting the military, he said his own father served in the U.S. Navy,” Wire said on CNN. “It’s not easy to kneel during the anthem he said, but it’s effective, the whole purpose he said was to spark conversation and shed light on the issue of racial and social injustice in America. He feels although it may be unpopular for some, it is effective and the conversations are being had.”

“I think the fact that a number of guys were immediately responsive to what the president said in Alabama on Friday night, shows you that players weren’t going to back down,” former NFL wide receiver Donte Stallworth said on CNN. “But when you look at the whole reason why this thing started from the very beginning is to bring forth a lot of attention to a situation in police communities — or communities, policing, that needs to be addressed.”

Stallworth said players now “have been galvanized, they’ve been inspired to do more now that they feel that the president of the United States is trying to bully them into silence.”

Asked if he felt Trump’s attack against the NFL is racist, Stallworth said: “I don’t sling that word around lightly. But I do think that when you look at the president’s own actions, not what we think of white supremacy or not what we think of racism, but you look at his own actions, his lack of condemnation to white supremacists in Charlottesville and Nazis marching, screaming Jews will not replace us. … I don’t need to say whether he’s a white supremacist or a racist, because his own actions speak for themselves.”

For his part, Trump told reporters on Sunday his comments were not about race. “I’ve never said anything about race,” he said. “This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.”

But for many, it was all about race.

“[Trump] has used these issues to stir up his base, always reminding them with a figurative wink and a tweet that he has not forgotten them, and to take a stand against efforts to promote social equality that he dismisses as silly political correctness,” wrote Julian Zelizer, Princeton University professor and author, in a column.

“All of this dog whistling has barely enough wiggle room for people to say this isn’t about race, but of course it is,” wrote TV personality and writer Touré in The Daily Beast. “Trump’s comment that all this isn’t about race is laughable — he’s deliberately urging the NFL’s owners and fans, who are predominantly white, to take action that would punish protesting NFL players, who are overwhelmingly black.

“He’s trying to silence black players on behalf of offended whites. He’s pushing racial buttons and taking sides. When he says it isn’t about race you just have to wonder if he knows he’s lying or if he’s not consciously aware of what he’s doing. Is he being dishonest or completely incompetent? I’m really not sure.”

NFL players kneel

Eric Matthews, former wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers, told CNN, “I look at it as a hit to the NFL players. … What you’re seeing today, the players are coming together, showing what Trump was talking about, it doesn’t have anything to do with that. These are football players but at the end of the day they’re American citizens first. … Kaepernick was taking a knee not against the NFL but because of what’s going on in our neighborhoods with the injustices in Black communities. And that I think kind of got missed, the whole reason. It’s not about Kaepernick trying to get a job. It’s about what he was standing for. And I think you’ll see that more.”
Ron Brownstein, senior editor at The Atlantic, said Sunday on CNN: “Saying this is about the national anthem is like saying Charlottesville was fundamentally about a statue of Robert E. Lee. It’s simply the venue in which the underlying issue is being fought out. And from the point of view of the president and the kind of language he has used literally from the first day when he came down the escalator in Trump Tower and talked about Mexicans who are rapists and criminals, it is not a coincidence that he is attacking a series of prominent African American athletes.

“This is a continuation of what we saw with David Duke, what we saw with Charlottesville, what we see in his comments about Black Lives Matter. He has appealed, from the beginning, to the elements of White America that are most uneasy about racial and demographic change. From the beginning, the president has drawn his most support from the voters who are most uneasy about those changes.”

David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, on Saturday wrote that the president “is infinitely more offended by the sight of a black ballplayer quietly, peacefully protesting racism in the United States than he is by racism itself.” Remnick said Trump’s use of phrases such as “People like yourselves,” “Those people, ” and “Son of a bitch” “was the same sort of racial signalling that followed the Fascist and white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is no longer a matter of ‘dog whistling.’ This is a form of racial demagoguery broadcast at the volume of a klaxon.”

Meanwhile, beyond the NFL, Trump on Saturday morning rescinded a White House invitation to professional basketball star Steph Curry, whose Golden State Warriors were this year’s NBA champions. The Warriors later said in a statement they would not visit the White House and instead use the trip to Washington, D.C., to “celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion,” which they “embrace as an organization.”

“I don’t know, you know, why he feels he needs to target certain individuals rather than others,” Curry said on CNN. “I have an idea of why, but it’s kind of — just kind of beneath, I think, a leader of a country to go that route. It’s not what leaders do.”

Trump’s decision to revoke Curry’s invitation was likely due to Curry’s statement on Friday saying: “We don’t stand for basically what our president has said and the things that he hasn’t said and the right times that we won’t stand for it. And by acting, or 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.”

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr forcefully criticized Trump’s statements and stood up for NFL players. “No matter how many times a football player says, ‘I honor our military, but I’m protesting police brutality and racial inequality,’ it doesn’t matter,” Kerr said Saturday on ESPN. “Nationalists are saying, ‘You’re disrespecting our flag.’ Well, you know what else is disrespectful to our flag? Racism. And one’s way worse than the other.”

NBA star Lebron James also weighed in. “Obviously, we all know what happened with Charlottesville and the divide that that caused,” he said. “And now it’s even hitting more home for me now even more, because he’s now using sports as the platform to try to divide us.”

In Major League Baseball Saturday night Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell kneeled with his hand over his heart prior to the start of his game. The former Army Ranger said afterwards: “My hand over my heart symbolized the fact that I am and am forever an American citizen and more than grateful for being here. But my kneeling is getting the attention, because I’m kneeling for the people that don’t have a voice. And this goes beyond the Black community. This scope [is] beyond the Hispanic community because right now, we are having an indifference and racial divide in all types of people.”

“Our country has a rich history of athletes activism,” added CNN’s Wire. “I think these are significant times. You can go back to Tommy Smith, John Carlos, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul- Jabbar. And this feels like that, a momentous time in our country where athletes are using their voice, using their platform to try to create positive change where they think they can.”

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, tweeted: “We will never back down. We can no longer afford to stick to sports.”

NFL owners contribute to Trump

Meanwhile, several NFL team owners have made financial contributions to Trump’s presidential campaign and/or his inaugural committee, according to published reports based on data from the Federal Election Commission:

Houston Texans owner Robert McNair: $2.4 million
New York Jets owner Woody Johnson: $1.105 million
Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder: $1.1 million
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft: $1 million
Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke: $1 million
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan: $1 million
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: $1 million
Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam: 400,000
Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Edward Glazer: $305,400

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