To kneel or not to kneel is not the question

The question is whether kneeling during the national anthem does anything to combat police brutality or advance the cause of racial justice. It. Does. Not.

I challenge anyone to cite a case that demonstrates otherwise.

And this issue is fraught enough without propagating the canard about a player’s right to protest. Only fools are questioning or challenging that right. Only a wannabe dictator like Donald Trump would call for any player who kneels to be fired.

Standing together
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s demand incited expressions of solidarity from athletes and owners in all major sports. Trump’s divisive and misleading tweets are corrupting the positive cultural influence sports have always played in America, much as they are corrupting the positive political influence the presidency has always played.

Trump has become so toxic that members of his own presidential councils and advisory groups are abandoning him, like rats from a sinking ship. The abandonment began, ironically enough, with fellow CEOs resigning en masse from his Manufacturing Jobs Council. They did so to protest his failure to categorically condemn White supremacists in the wake of the violence they caused in Charlottesville.

That led to members of his Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum following suit, which led to members of his Committee on the Arts and Humanities, National Infrastructure Advisory Council, Cybersecurity Council, and others all doing the same.

Honorees like legendary TV producer Norman Lear and dancer/choreographer Carmen de Lavallade boycotted the White House reception for this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, which is usually held under the president’s auspices

No surprise
Given all the above, it was hardly surprising that National Football League players “sat out, knelt and linked arms during pre-game national anthems played across the country and in London… hours after US President Donald Trump called on fans to boycott teams that do not discipline players who protest,” according to Reuters.

Note that Trump whipped tens of thousands of supporters into a frenzy at a rally in Alabama on Friday. Specifically, he derided the (Black) NFL players who kneel during the anthem as “sons of bitches,” and called on the owners of teams they play for to fire them.

In other words, Trump thinks Blacks who kneel during the national anthem are sons of bitches, but Whites who march to the tune of racist and anti-Semitic chants are “some very fine people.”

Anyway, here’s to the owners for giving Trump the middle finger. Not even one heeded his presidential demand to fire players for kneeling. On the contrary, several of them made a point of going down to the field to stand in solidarity with kneeling players.

Players more powerful
There was also no sign that fans heeded his clarion call to boycott games. Their refusal to do so, coupled with the owners’ refusal to fire kneeling players, demonstrated that when it comes to the lure of professional sports, the players have far more pull than this president.

That said, I resent the way media outlets continually help this reckless “dotard,” as he was called by North Korea, dominate public debate. While focusing on the many crazy things Trump says, media outlets are not covering the many important things he’s failing to do, despite it being patently obvious that, in almost every case, he says crazy things to detract media attention from his shortcomings.

For example, Trump must feel like P.T. Barnum as he watches the media focus on his silly fight with NFL players over the flag. Because this means they are not covering his serious fight with North Korea over nuclear weapons.

More to the point, they are detracting from his failure to tame North Korea as he famously promised. This failure is exposing Trump as a blowhard who barks like a dog but has no bite.

They are also detracting from his failure to replace and repeal Obamacare, which exposes Trump as a hopelessly incompetent leader who can’t even get his own political party to support the primary objective of his presidency.

Act of defiance
Still, it speaks volumes that players knelt not to protest racial injustice, but to defy Trump. But for Trump, the act of players kneeling would have remained just a footnote in the annals of NFL history – along with the player who started it, Colin Kaepernick. That’s why I stand by what I wrote in “Delusional Kaepernick Standing Up by Kneeling Down During National Anthem,” August 30, 2016:

[T]his protest smacks of grandstanding. And it’s only slightly less lazy and misguided than people who think (re)tweeting slogans about injustice is tantamount to fighting for justice.

Of course, Rosa Parks and the ‘Greensboro Four’ famously showed the meaningful way to stand up by sitting down for racial justice.…

The point is that there are many ways Kaepernick can stand up for his cause without showing wanton disrespect for the pride so many people have in the American flag. I urge him to find another way.

Yet I’m all too mindful of the public pressure to support kneeling during the anthem as a form of protest. The fascistic intolerance of ignorant trolls ape the very racism they are purportedly fighting. But this too is hardly surprising.

Polls show that most of them think the First Amendment only guarantees freedom of speech to people who agree with them. This explains why they make no distinction between protesting against White supremacists who hate them, and White liberals who have done (and are doing) more for racial justice than they ever will.

Nonsensical protest
Just last week, their misguided activism humbled former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

DACA supporters rabidly heckled her at a news conference. They willfully refused to let her explain the progressive steps she and her Democratic colleagues are taking to advance their cause. Their protest made no sense to anyone who knows anything about the politics of this issue, or the legislative process required to resolve it.

There’s no denying that Trump has a galvanizing effect on people protesting all manner of injustice. But I cannot overstate the orchestrated nature of his provocation. Trust me, this birther-in-chief knew exactly what he was doing when he spewed more hatred at those who protested against White supremacists in Charlottesville than at the White supremacists themselves.

I shall end as I began: by noting that this latest Trumpian distraction is not about disrespecting the flag. It’s about respecting the Constitution, for which Trump continually shows ignorant disrespect and utter contempt. Arguably, he is more unpatriotic than the kneeling NFL players he wants to blacklist.

Hope springs eternal that his supporters will bear this in mind if he survives to stand for re-election.

Anthony L. Hall is a native of The Bahamas with an international law practice in Washington, D.C. Read his columns and daily weblog at


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