Donald Trump picked a fight he can’t win when he attacked Colin Kaepernick and other American football players who protest racial inequality and police brutality by kneeling for the national anthem.
His comments were met with widespread backlash around the National Football League and led to an expanded version of the protests he had ridiculed. That’s certainly not what the US president intended when he called protesters “sons of bitches” who should be fired.
Trump’s remarks also sparked a broad discourse about patriotism. Veteran sports broadcaster Bob Costas appeared on CNN this morning to discuss the weekend’s protests, in which more than 130 National Football League players knelt or raised a fist during the anthem on Sunday. (Other players—and some team owners—stood, but locked arms in solidarity.)
Costas succinctly defended the players’ right to protest, delivering a civics lesson in the process.
“Patriotism comes in many forms,” Costas said, objecting to the notion that patriotism is reserved only for military reverence. “Martin Luther King was a patriot. Susan B. Anthony was a patriot. Dissidents are patriots,” he said. “School teachers and social workers are patriots.”
Kaepernick has repeatedly said that his protest had nothing to do with the US military. But even before Trump became president, American sports, and football in particular, have been increasingly militarized, almost becoming a brand extension of the US armed forces. The Pentagon pays the NFL millions of dollars each year to host patriotic events during games, which include full-field displays of the flag.
“[Patriotism] has been conflated with a bumper-sticker kind of flag-waving and with the military only,” Costas added, “so that people cannot see that in his own way, Colin Kaepernick, however imperfectly, is doing a patriotic thing.”
On Real Time with Bill Maher Friday night, Costas suggested that before the national anthem is performed, NFL stadium announcers should say “Please stand for the national anthem and the ideals it represents,” rather than simply, “Please stand.” That, Costas argued, might help angry fans understand that the flag represents more than just the US military, and that kneeling during the song is not necessarily a slight to servicemen and women.
Costas was far from the only person close to the game to criticize Trump’s grasp of the issue. Even those who have called themselves friends or supporters of the US president came out against his remarks: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who once called himself a “good friend” of Trump’s but generally goes out of his way to remain apolitical, called the president’s comments “divisive.” Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a longtime friend of Trump’s, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the tone of Trump’s comments. Shahid Khan, the Jacksonville Jaguars owner who donated $1 million to the president’s inauguration committee, joined arms with his players in solidarity with their protest.
Watch Costas’ full 15-minute spot, which also touched on the NFL’s concussion issue, on CNN here.