all these NFL owners “denouncing” Trump’s statements while blackballing Kaepernick has got to be the most neo liberal thing of all time
— Chai Goth (@Abid_ism) September 24, 2017
NFL owners, neoliberals, and centrists made self-serving responses to comments made by President Trump this weekend over Colin Kaepernick’s protests against racism and police brutality during the national anthem.
Trump said during a rally in Huntsville, Alabama on September 22, “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, he’s fired’?” Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin echoed similar sentiments in an interview with ABC News’ This Week that players should “do free speech on their own time.”
In response to the comments, players criticized Trump for the comments, as did NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, several NFL Owners, and coaches, who also hypocritically continue to effectively ban Colin Kaepernick from the NFL for exercising his right to protest for a noble cause. Some voices in the political center went even further in trying to brand Kaepernick’s kneeling as a symbol of the Trump Resistance, ignoring the white supremacy it seeks to challenge.
“The kneel will now become a sign of opposition to Trump.” David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief of Mother Jones tweeted in a pathetic attempt to redefine the protest Kaepernick started before Trump was even elected in August 2016. Washington Post National Correspondent Philip Bump also tried to push co-opting Kaepernick’s protest for the Trump Resistance, claiming, “Trump managed to turn kneeling into a symbol of resistance to Trump”. Washington Post columnist David Rothkopf tweeted, before deleting, a similar call for co-opting Kaepernick’s kneeling. Actress Alyssa Milano recommended abandoning the NFL boycott that was being pushed for by allies in support of Kaepernick in favor of fully supporting the NFL for opposing Trump. “In solidarity with #TakeTheKnee and the NFL, let’s watch as much football as humanly possible.” Democratic Party fundraiser Scott Dworkin selfishly whitewashed the #TakeAKnee protests into an advertisement for the Trump Resistance.
When Kaepernick first began to kneel as a protest, he explained why in an interview with NFL Media; “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” He added, “This is not something that I am going to run by anybody, I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
The injustices that inspired Kaepernick’s protests were rampant before Trump became president, and may continue after it. Making Kaepernick’s protest into one solely against Trump reduces white supremacy to a personality trait over a systematic issue that the United States was founded upon and continues to operate under. Trump is a shield used by centrists and establishment voices to wash away the racism and immorality embedded within power structures that oppose Trump. He is the symptom, not the cause of the white supremacy and institutional forces that perpetuate racism and police brutality.
For many of these voices, the NFL ending Kaepernick’s career for standing up against racial injustice and oppression was worthy of ignoring until Trump publicly commented on it, politicizing it in such a way that opposing Trump’s rhetoric provides an opportunity for their own political gain. Both neoliberals and Trump supporters are trying to reframe Kaepernick’s protest in the context of their own interpretations of American exceptionalism and patriotism, each of which dilutes and undermines the efforts made by Kaepernick and others to meaningfully address and raise awareness of racial injustice in America.