We Are a Better Nation Than Trump Understands

Jesse Jackson | 9/29/2017, 8 a.m.
When Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem last year, he acted alone, a silent protest against ...
Jesse Jackson

When Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem last year, he acted alone, a silent protest against a society that repeatedly fails to hold police accountable for the killing of unarmed African-Americans. Kaepernick was condemned and now essentially has been banned from the NFL, with the owners surely colluding to insure that a quarterback of immense talent would not find a place among the dozens of teams desperately in need of one.

Kaepernick is alone no longer. After Donald Trump's ugly outbursts and tweets -- he called Kaepernick and other protestors a "son of a b----," urged the NFL owners to kick out any player with the courage to protest and, bizarrely, condemned rule changes designed to provide some protection against concussions -- players and even owners across the NFL reacted. Teams linked arms on the sidelines during the anthem, some kneeling and others not, unified in protest of Trump's divisive rants and tweets. The Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans and all but one of the Pittsburgh Steelers chose to stay in their locker rooms when the anthem was played.

They stood together to defend the right of their teammates to express themselves, whether they agreed with those views or not. They stood together to show that they are citizens, not chattel. They are skilled athletes practicing their profession, not chained slave gladiators forced to entertain the mob.

Every athlete knows that expressing controversial views publicly is a harsh risk. Their careers are short; their contracts are not guaranteed. The owners are billionaires, dependent on public subsidy, fearful of any controversy. They are clearly prepared, as they did with Kaepernick, to punish independence. Yet dozens of athletes responded to Trump's jibes by joining the protest, and their teammates stood arm-in-arm defending their right to do so. Trump thinks the NFL is a plantation. The players showed the real patriotism that the flag truly represents.

For Trump, the assault on protesting black athletes -- he also tweeted his withdrawal of an invitation to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors to visit the White House after Curry expressed reservations about the president -- is a classic diversion. He has terrified the country with his blustery, schoolyard insults to a North Korean leader armed with nuclear weapons. His efforts to dismember basic health care are failing despite lies and bribes. Hurricanes and wildfires are mocking his inane denial of climate change. His embrace of the "fine people" in the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va., alarmed decent people across the country. After eight months in office, he has the lowest approval ratings of any president since polls were invented.

Black athletes -- many of them millionaires -- make a perfect foil. How dare they protest when they have been "given" so much? Much of Trump's base already thinks minorities enjoy special privileges. Going after black athletes simply stokes their anger and resentment, while masking Trump's myriad failures and betrayals.

Kaepernick took his knee to protest the criminal police killing of African-Americans. This year to date, the Washington Post reports that 10 unarmed African-Americans, and 32 unarmed people in total, have been fatally shot by the police in the U.S. St. Louis has been shaken by days of protests after the acquittal of a police officer who shot an 24-year-old African-American after a car chase.