Photo via @Brookie425
The 2018 NFL season kicked off its first day of full-speed action on Thursday, leading a number of players to reignite protests against institutional racism across America’s most popular professional sports league, and once again drawing the ire of President Donald Trump.
During the 12 preseason games played yesterday, more than 10 players protested America’s racially-biased criminal justice system by either kneeling or raising a fist during the playing of the national anthem, or remaining off the field entirely during the pregame ceremony.
According to the New York Times, Miami Dolphins’ Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson were the only players across the league to take a knee during the anthem, while the Philadelphia Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins and De’Vante Bausby, along with Tampa Bay Buccaneer Robert Quinn, raised their fists.
Started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016, the on-field protests of police brutality and institutional racism have drawn awareness and funding to issues affecting people of color across the country, but have also polarized football fans along the political spectrum. Fanning the flames of right-wing reactionaries and dog-whistle racism, President Trump has repeatedly lashed out at NFL players and team owners over protests, painting the civil disobedience as an affront to the American flag and the anthem — a fundamental misunderstanding of the players’ actions.
In the months since the Philadelphia Eagles took home the 2017 Super Bowl trophy in February, league officials and team owners caved to the president’s histrionics, instituting a new rule that would require players to either stand for the anthem, remain in the locker room during the ceremony, or face a fine for protesting. After implementing the new protocol in May, league officials reversed the decision in July, instead announcing that they would meet with the players’ union before any final decision was made.
With rules around national anthem reverting to their original wording before Thursday’s preseason games, presumably no team or player will face a fine, but that didn’t stop Trump from firing up his favorite social media medium to instigate more misguided outrage, calling on the NFL to implement consequences for player protests.
“The NFL players are at it again - taking a knee when they should be standing proudly for the National Anthem. Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their “outrage” at something that most of them are unable to define,” Trump tweeted Friday morning. “They make a fortune doing what they love......Be happy, be cool! A football game, that fans are paying soooo much money to watch and enjoy, is no place to protest. Most of that money goes to the players anyway. Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!”
In their own social media posts and post-game interviews, players that protested reiterated their goals, raising specific issues in the America’s prison-and-policing system while ignoring Trump’s manufactured outrage.
“Before we enjoy this game let’s take some time to ponder that more than 60% of the prison population are people of color,” Malcolm Jenkins, who wore a t-shirt with a graphic of that same statistic during pre-game warm-ups, wrote on Twitter. “The NFL is made up of 70% African Americans. What you witness on the field does not represent the reality of everyday America. We are the anomalies…”
Without a final decision from league officials, team owners, and the players’ union on the future of on-field protests, it appears that no matter how much Trump tweets, NFL players will continue to call attention to America’s racist realities before each and every game.