Super Bowl

Donald Trump Should Stop Telling NFL To Fire Players for Anthem Protests

Public workplace (and schoolhouse) protests are as American as apple pie.


Mike Morbeck, Flickr

Another day, another internet-breaking presidential tweet, this time about NFL players who protest racial injustice by refusing to stand at attention during the pre-game playing of the National Anthem. Former 49ers' quarterback Colin Kaepernick started this movement a year when he first took a knee. Kaepernick explicitly said he was doing it as a protest to call attention to police abuse:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color… 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.

Now there's this from the leader of the land of the free and the home of the brave:

Trump's tweets create an interesting situation especially for libertarians, who believe in maximum speech rights for everyone. On the one hand, you could argue that, hey, the Donald is simply weighing in as a citizen on a situation of interest to many Americans. Why shouldn't he feel free to do so, right? Then again, Trump is also goddamned president of the United States and has immense power both via law enforcement and the bully pulpit to screw not just with an individual's life but the status of entire industries.

As it happens, the NFL's commissioner, Roger Goodell, has articulated a league policy that allows for players to protest during the National Anthem.

"It's one of those things where I think we have to understand that there are people that have different viewpoints," Goodell said. "The national anthem is a special moment to me. It's a point of pride. But we also have to understand the other side, that people do have rights and we want to respect those."

So if Donald Trump wants to flap his gums about how employees of a (mostly) private-sector entity exercise their speech rights, maybe he ought to be calling out the NFL's owners for allowing such displays. But let's grant the president the right to criticize individual workers for exercising their own rights to free speech. Is his actual argument any good? No, not really. Public workplace (and schoolhouse) protests are as American as apple pie, aren't they now? The idea that someone who is a beneficiary of a given system should not be allowed to criticize aspects of it is the laziest sort of thinking imaginable. Kaepernick and those who are following his lead have indeed made more money than all but a tiny fraction of Americans. Does that mean they can't critique their country, especially from a highly visible platform? Of course not. This goddamned country was built on dissent put forth by beneficiaries of the British colonial system (the signers of the Declaration were, as a group, such rich and privileged bastards after all).

To be fair, Donald Trump doesn't do irony. Or history. Or introspection. What he does do is tweet and cause outrage, mostly to deflect attention from more serious issues. As Politico's Jack Shafer has written:

Have none of [the president's critics] been paying attention to Trump's Twitter strategy for the past 17 months? For anybody who has read a half-dozen of Trump's tweets, the pattern is obvious. He compiles these tweets precisely in order to elicit strident protest….To Trump's followers the content of any one of his rebukes matters less than whom it's directed at….

he's willing to engage in this sort of psy-ops as long as it sends the opposition chasing a red herring.

What then should we do when Trump taunts with such tweets? First, think before you tweet. Know that Trump wants you to tweet back at him the first thing that comes to your offended brain. Pause for just a minute, and if you must comment, try something like, "Sorry, Baby Donald, I'm not taking the bait."

That sounds about right, especially when you consider that Trump is at his tweetiest when he's trying distract from other things. Which makes you wonder: What is he trying to cover up by yakking about the NFL?

Bonus link: Did you know that the NFL only decreed in 2009 that all players had to be visible (though not necessarily standing) on the sidelines for the playing of the National Anthem? Before that, it was a team-by-team decision.