NFL vs The White House: The Veterans’ Verdict
It is not that sports personalities have not taken political positions before, but what makes the latest NFL controversy different is the White House jumping in the middle, something unprecedented. For the first time in a long while, the NFL games have taken a backseat and that too in the middle of the season. Right now, everyone is talking about the NFL protests and whether these protests are right or not. The hullabaloo may have subsided, if only the president had refrained himself from giving his two cents. In typical Trump fashion, he did not hold back and blasted the players while addressing a rally in Alabama by saying: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired!” Trump thinks that the people protesting are being disrespectful and unpatriotic to the country, the flag and the national anthem. The president has been called out for what he has said and quite a few veterans are in that group too. This has become a really sensitive situation but how did it reach this point in the first place? The background It all began last year when Colin Kaepernick decided to protest against injustices against African Americans and minorities in the US. Interestingly enough, he did not kneel when he started to protest. In the first three preseason clashes before the 2016 NFL season, Kaepernick just sat during the national anthem. That is when he met Nate Boyer, a former Army veteran to discuss if what he was doing was right. Boyer asked him to kneel, instead of just sitting there. Kaepernick was then joined by some of his then 49ers teammates. What began as one man’s crusade against racial injustice has now become a national movement that has transcended the NFL. The Trump Effect The movement that Kaepernick started was a divisive one right from the beginning. There were people on both sides of the fence and then Mr. Trump decided to step in. His statement at the rally in Alabama, to a predominantly white crowd, riled up a lot of people. If he thought, him taking sides would kill the movement, he was wrong. It had the opposite effect and more and more players began to kneel in protest. The point that Trump missed was that the majority of the players who were protesting in the first place were black. So, when he called them “sons of bitches,” the players took it personally. The Veterans Take No one knows more about respecting the flag and protecting the country than the military veterans and they have now stepped up and quite a few of them have come out to defend the players. For starters, thirty-five veterans wrote an open letter last year and in it they said: “Far from disrespecting our troops, there is no finer form of appreciation for our sacrifice than for Americans to enthusiastically exercise their freedom of speech.” In the same letter, they said that while they might not protest like Kaepernick, but they still “respect and honor his choice, and whole heartedly join him in stating unequivocally that BLACK LIVES MATTER.” And this was before the President’s statement. Now the protests have taken a whole new dimension. The veterans who are on the side of the protests are taking the line that it is the protestors right to protest and the constitution allows that. So, by supporting the movement the vets are saying that their services to the country were not restricted to the battlefields. They were also guardians of the constitution, which they fought to protect so that people could exercise their freedom of speech. John Middlemas is 97 years old now and he is a WWII veteran. In a social media picture uploaded by his grandson on Twitter he can be seen kneeling in support of the movement. His grandson, Brennan Gilmore tweeted the picture by saying: “My grandpa is a 97 year-old WWII vet & Missouri farmer who wanted to join w/ those who #TakeaKnee: “those kids have every right to protest.” But then, there is another group of vets that think that these protests are disrespectful to the flag, the country and the national anthem. They are of the opinion that there are other ways to protest and the players have to stand up during the anthem to show that the United States stands United. Denise Rohan, the Legion National Commander said: “There are many ways to protest, but the national anthem should be our moment to stand together as one United States of America.” Keith Harman who is the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said: “There is a time and place for civil debate, and wearing team jerseys and using sporting events to disrespect our country doesn’t wash with millions of military veterans who have and continue to wear real uniforms on real battlefields around the globe.” The NFL vs The White House To put it mildly, President Trump’s statements have added fuel to the fire and have polarized the country. Initially, it was a few athletes taking a stand for what they perceived a just cause, but the President’s comments have now turned it into The White House vs NFL clash. Athletes and owners who were not openly supporting the movement have now come out to back the protestors. On the weekend the current Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots knelt during the anthem. The Cowboys were joined by their owner Jerry Jones in the middle of the pitch as they did the same. They were not the only teams to do that. The Seahawks, Titans and the Steelers went one step further and did not come out on to the field for the national anthem. They appeared from the locker rooms after the national anthem had been sung. The widespread protests, it seems, will only get stronger. The Veterans are divided on the issue, however. There are merits to both sides of the argument, but the fear is that this situation will get worse before it gets any better. The sooner football becomes the main talking point, the better it is for everyone.