Knee down, fist raised

Will you stand with the pro athletes peacefully objecting to racism or will you side with the xenophobe?

Of all of the problems plaguing the United States of America (the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico come to mind), our president has chosen to spend an inordinate amount of time criticizing professional athletes, particularly those in the NFL, who have chosen to kneel during the national anthem in protest of the country’s pervasive problems with racial injustice.

The demonstration began just over a year ago, when then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee to give rise to the issue.

Trump took on the topic in earnest last Friday, Sept. 22, at a rally in Huntsville, Ala., as he stumped for Republican Sen. Luther Strange, who on Tuesday ended up losing in a primary election to an anti-establishment Republican challenger. There, during one of POTUS’ signature bizarre speeches, he railed against the on-the-field protesters. He called on NFL team owners to intervene, to say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!”

Over a period of days following those crude remarks, Trump doubled down on his criticism. His tactic: bastardizing the intent of the protest by suggesting it’s not about racism but rather about disrespecting not only the U.S. flag, but also the military and the nation in general.

Meanwhile, via Twitter, he rescinded his invitation to the 2017 NBA champion Golden State Warriors to visit the White House, singling out star point guard Stephen Curry, who’d made it clear he wouldn’t attend. Trump’s about-face came before the rest of the team even had the chance to discuss whether it would accept the invitation. As Coach Steve Kerr put it, “[Trump] was going to break up with us before we could break up with him.”

In short, 240-plus days into his presidency, Donald Trump set out to fan the flames of division in an already divided country. Indeed, Trump evidently believes he’s still operating on the level of The Apprentice, his canceled reality-TV show. That’s also clear from his utter and complete lack of understanding about the First Amendment—in this case, that using the bully pulpit to try to compel NFL owners to punish their employees is not protected speech. That said, neither are the demonstrations by anyone on the field. Those players could face repercussions by their employers by participating in such protests.

However, over the weekend, Trump’s comments drew sweeping backlash from within the NFL—more than 200 players took part in the demonstrations, by sitting, kneeling or raising a fist. In addition, team owners, coaches and other colleagues have rejected Trump’s comments by locking arms with them, in many cases while also kneeling, either during or prior to the anthem. Moreover, the NFL’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, issued a statement saying he was proud of the league and, among other things, calling the president divisive.

At the conclusion of the weekend, what started as Kaepernick’s lone protest has snowballed into a larger demonstration, spurring discussion far and wide.

Locally, a couple of businesses have weighed in on the issue by siding with Trump (see The Goods, page 15). That’s their right. However, it seems like a poor business decision considering that while those who support Trump’s stance may spend a few extra bucks there in the short term, the folks who oppose the president’s belligerent rhetoric are likely to have much longer memories.

For those who haven’t made up their minds, we present you with a few options: You can take the side of a race-baiting, xenophobic bully who is doing all he can to recharacterize the nature of a peaceful protest of a very real and important issue. Or, you can be on the right side of history by rejecting his efforts to hijack the narrative of this movement to shed light on systematic racism.

We know what side we’re on. We’re kneeling. Fists up—way up.