When a politician is struggling in the polls or needs to distract the public, the oldest trick in the book is to start a campaign to ban flag burning.
Of course, it never goes through because the idea of such a ban runs completely counter to many of our most important rights and freedoms, though it does generally churn up all sorts of nationalist feelings.
This weekend President Donald Trump, who’s approval ratings are historically bad, essentially took a stab at this. Except, in typical Trump style, it was fumbled and blew up in his face. When politicians generally take this tactic, those in question usually have a limited platform. The NFL, however, almost has a bigger stage than the president, and with much higher approval ratings.
In case you were hiding under a rock, Trump took exception to Golden State Warriors superstar Seth Curry declining an invitation to the White House for the customary pro sports champion’s dinner with the president. This angered Trump and he withdrew the invitation via Twitter, his preferred mode of getting messages out.
He did not stop there. During a speech in Alabama, he took aim at the NFL and the handful of players protesting police violence towards the black community and the ingrained racial discrimination in the U.S. by kneeling during the national anthem. His words are crass and will live on in infamy: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag to say, `Get that son of a bitch off the field right now! Out. He’s fired! He’s fired!’”
He later doubled down on those comments on Twitter in a two-part tweet, saying “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!”
Considering he made millions of dollars as a reality TV star and has shown more disrespect to the office and his nation than any football player, he really should be careful about throwing those rocks in his glass house.
What has happened since is a firestorm. The protest grew from half a dozen players to more than 200. More importantly, some of Trumps’ biggest supporters in the league, including the NFL itself, New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft (who gave Trump a Super Bowl ring) and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan (who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee) and other owners all released statements disparaging the president’s comments. Many also stood linked in arms with their players on the field during the anthem on Sunday.
Trump’s initial rants with racial undertones regarding a small, silent protest about race issues in America have turned into a protest against the POTUS. The insinuation by the highest office in the country that a person’s occupation or bank account should exempt them from certain rights is obscene.
People do not like the idea that sports are a place of politics, but they have been tools of propaganda for as long as they have been around. The whole idea of the Olympics — or any international tournament — is to help a country puff its chest out and proclaim its importance. The famed 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union and the 1980 Miracle on Ice were filled with Cold War sentiments. Hockey players using rainbow tape on their sticks taps into social politics. On individual levels there’s Muhammad Ali’s protest of the Vietnam war or the 1968 civil rights protest by American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the Olympic podium.
It was the sports and entertainment world that North America largely turned to on 9/11 for some semblance of normalcy following the terrorist attacks, and there has been no shortage of pomp and circumstance and nationalistic promotion pumped out since. The U.S. Department of Defense has pumped millions into promotion at NFL games, essentially using them as a recruiting tool. This includes getting the NFL to change its own policy and have players on the sidelines for the anthem starting in 2009. The simple fact that we sing the national anthem before every sporting event brings politics to the forefront.
There is nothing wrong with honouring veterans, saluting the flag and paying our respects. This protest is not about disrespecting them, but rather it is about upholding why they fought and died and what makes the country you’re in (whether it be Canada or the U.S.) so great. Those certain unalienable rights guaranteed by constitutions that all people are created equal, the freedom to assemble and to peaceably protest, and most importantly freedom of speech.
Unless it is the right to bear arms, apparently Trump has problems with protecting the freedoms of his people.