Take a Knee, Mr. President

Carly Priest

Opinions Editor

“Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!”[1]

Originally published in Life magazine, contemporary memory holds the picture of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the 1968 Olympics medal podium as one the most influential images of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.[2] As “The Star-Spangled Banner” played behind them, Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood, heads bowed, each with a fist raised with, as Time magazine notes, an unequivocal message: “Before we salute America, America must treat blacks as equal.”[3]  Smith and Carlos paid dearly for their activism: The United States Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee suspended their position on the U.S. Track team, and sent both athletes home.[4]

At a campaign rally in Alabama last Friday (September 22, 2017) for Senate candidate Luther Strange, Donald Trump spoke out against U.S. professional athletes who boycott “The Star-Spangled Banner” to bring different social issues into media limelight.[5] Specifically, Trump expressed his hope that National Football League (NFL) owners would have the courage to say about players who protested the national anthem at competition events: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!”[6]

Though he does not mention Colin Kaepernick by name, Trump clearly spoke in reference to the 2016 season protests of the San Francisco 49ers quarterback. Kaepernick first knelt at a 2016 preseason game, and continued his protest at every game after, to descry the oppression of persons of color in the United States.[7] A media firestorm ensued—Hall of Famer Mike Ditka gave an interview to say: “If [you] don’t like the country [you] don’t like our flag…get the hell out [of the United States].”[8] Others, like Stevie Wonder (and the entire Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans teams) joined Kaepernick in solidarity.[9]

If the Kaepernick protest story sounds familiar, it should: There’s a far-reaching history of athletes and activists publically condemning U.S. policies; a practice hardly originated by or ended with Smith and Carlos back in 1968.[10] The practice is to stay in the locker room, kneel, raise one fist, or link arms as “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays. There’s a distinctively “American” practice of peacefully protesting the national anthem.[11]  

If I may be perfectly blunt for a moment, I don’t expect much from Donald Trump. The man is wholly unqualified, unprofessional, illogical, and irresponsible. He jokes about assaulting women.[12]  He appears hell-bent on ruining U.S. global diplomacy efforts, the environment, and the economy. Trump recently divulged that he does not exercise, because “a person, like a battery, is born with a finite amount of energy.”[13] In the last nine months, the public steadily realized they could count on Trump for less and less—and, as his “get that son of a bitch off the field right now” revealed, we can now no longer even count on Trump to forgo the use of expletives in the speeches he gives.[14]

I decided to write about the history of “The Star-Spangled Banner” protests in the United States because Trump’s public reaction to “that son of a bitch” (Kaepernick) differed so remarkably from his original statement about the Charlottesville protests. Where Trump wavered in August and failed to condemn the behavior of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and their supporters as racist and un-American, he stood firm to condemn the actions of “that son of a bitch” (Kaepernick).[15] [16] Until we recognize that the President of the United States condemned a black man for kneeling during the national anthem, but not the group of fired-up, white, white supremacists who waved American flags, any critique of the action of kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” is rendered moot.

       

 

[1] Sophie Tatum, “Trump: NFL Owners Should Fire Players Who Protest the National Anthem,” CNN, September 23rd, 2017 (accessed September 25th, 2017), http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/22/politics/donald-trump-alabama-nfl/index.html.

[2] “Time 100 Photos: Black Power Salute,” Time Magazine (accessed September 25th, 2017), http://100photos.time.com/photos/john-dominis-black-power-salute.

[3] “Time 100 Photos: Black Power Salute,” Time Magazine (accessed September 25th, 2017), http://100photos.time.com/photos/john-dominis-black-power-salute.

[4] David Davis, “Olympic Athletes Who Took A Stand,” Smithsonian Magazine, August 2008 (accessed September 25th, 2017), http://www.smithsonianmag.com/articles/olympic-athletes-who-took-a-stand-593920/.

[5] Sophie Tatum, “Trump: NFL Owners Should Fire Players Who Protest the National Anthem,” CNN, September 23rd, 2017 (accessed September 25th, 2017), http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/22/politics/donald-trump-alabama-nfl/index.html.

[6] Sophie Tatum, “Trump: NFL Owners Should Fire Players Who Protest the National Anthem,” CNN, September 23rd, 2017 (accessed September 25th, 2017), http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/22/politics/donald-trump-alabama-nfl/index.html.

[7] Sophie Tatum, “Trump: NFL Owners Should Fire Players Who Protest the National Anthem,” CNN, September 23rd, 2017 (accessed September 25th, 2017), http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/22/politics/donald-trump-alabama-nfl/index.html.

[8] “Mike Ditka on Colin Kaepernick protests: If you don’t like America, ‘get the hell out,’ ” Sports Illustrated Wire, September 23rd, 2016 (Accessed September 25th, 2017) https://www.si.com/nfl/2016/09/23/mike-ditka-colin-kaepernick-national-anthem-protests.

[9] Benjamin Hoffman, Victor Mather, and Jacey Fortin, “After Trump Blasts N.F.L., Players Kneel and Lock Arms in Solidarity,” The New York Times, September 24th, 2017 (Accessed September 25th, 2017) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/24/sports/nfl-trump-anthem-protests.html?mcubz=0.

[10] “Time 100 Photos: Black Power Salute,” Time Magazine (accessed September 25th, 2017), http://100photos.time.com/photos/john-dominis-black-power-salute.

[11] “Time 100 Photos: Black Power Salute,” Time Magazine (accessed September 25th, 2017), http://100photos.time.com/photos/john-dominis-black-power-salute.

[12] “Transcript: Donald Trump’s Taped Comments About Women,” The New York Times, October 8th, 2016 (Accessed September 25th, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/08/us/donald-trump-tape-transcript.html?mcubz=0.

[13] Evan Osnos, “How Trump Could Get Fired,” The New York Times, May 8th, 2017 (Accessed September 25th, 2017), https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/05/08/how-trump-could-get-fired.

[14] Sophie Tatum, “Trump: NFL Owners Should Fire Players Who Protest the National Anthem,” CNN, September 23rd, 2017 (accessed September 25th, 2017), http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/22/politics/donald-trump-alabama-nfl/index.html.

[15] Ronald R. Brownstein, “How Trump’s Reaction to Charlottesville Threatens the GOP,” The Atlantic, August 17th 2017 (accessed September 25th, 2017),  https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/how-trumps-reaction-to-charlottesville-threatens-the-gop/537162/.

[16] Sophie Tatum, “Trump: NFL Owners Should Fire Players Who Protest the National Anthem,” CNN, September 23rd, 2017 (accessed September 25th, 2017), http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/22/politics/donald-trump-alabama-nfl/index.html.

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