In addition to picking a fight with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-Un, President Donald Trump decided to add his unsolicited two cents to the conversation surrounding the recent kneeling protests within the sports world. On Sept. 22, while addressing an Alabama audience, instead of talks of relief efforts for Puerto Rico following the devastation of hurricane Maria, the president chose to lash out at NFL players who “take the knee” during the national anthem. He called on team owners to take action by getting the “son of a bitch off the field,” suggesting the firing of NFL players who participate in the protests.
This was at least the second time for the month that the White House has called for the firing of persons who exercised their rights to free speech in the name of equality and justice. In a conference on Sept. 13, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders mentioned that she was unsure whether the president was aware of tweets made by Jemele Hill, where the ESPN host called the president a white supremacist. However, Sanders did say that she thought the host’s comments were a fireable offense. Two days later, Trump took to Twitter to personally call for Hill’s firing.
Here’s the thing: as Americans, we have the right to free speech and freedom of the press. So, perhaps Trump’s press secretary should take a few moments to educate the president about what the first amendment means and what type of comments are protected. The president cannot insist that a person’s actions are a fireable offense just because someone says or does something that the leader doesn’t like. If that was the case, I’m sure former president Barack Obama might have tried to have Trump silenced for repeated remarks made throughout his presidency, including the suggestion that Obama was the “founder of ISIS” and not a U.S. citizen. You know where leaders can do that? North Korea. But since the president has been busy making comments about the nation, I’ll just chalk his ignorant comments up to a bout of momentary confusion.
Since we’re talking about America and its culture, I must insist that based on history, the combination of athletes and protests, seem to me, as American as they come. Who could forget how track and field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood atop the medal platform, arms raised in a black power salute during the playing of the national anthem at the 1968 Mexico City Games? How about when Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett got barred from the Olympics when the athletes refused to face the flag in 1972? Too far back for you? Okay, how about when the NBA suspended basketball star Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf for refusing to stand for the anthem in 1996? Then there was the time in 2004 when Toronto first baseman Carlos Delgado sat in the dugout during the anthem following the 9/11 attacks. Surely the president remembers when the Phoenix Suns owner, Robert Sarver, requested that the Los Suns players wear special jerseys to protest newly passed immigration laws in 2010?
Whether the president likes it or not, athletes do not give their rights away upon the signing of their contracts. Owners cannot simply whisk someone away at the president’s request — even if they are his friends and campaign donors — unless the players have acted in a way which contradicts the explicit requirements of said contracts. It also isn’t against the law for persons to refrain from “standing at attention” during the singing of the national anthem. Therefore, Donald Trump can have many seats; hopefully on transportation en route to areas in need, or in boardrooms working with officials on issues that really need the POTUS’s attention, such as tax reform, relief efforts for Houston, South Florida and Puerto Rico or the systematic discrimination and treatment of minorities that gave rise to the protests in the first place.