Nothing is sacred in America anymore, not even sports, after President Donald Trump put the National Football League on blast this past weekend by calling the players who protest during the national anthem expletives and saying they should all be fired. The NFL responded with league-wide protests. Some teams locked arms, some teams knelt and a few teams even stayed off the field during the playing of the American national anthem. Even though Trump might have divided the nation with his comments, he united the NFL.

This all started last season when now-unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality against unarmed black people. This caught some steam around the league before starting to falter early on during this season. In Week 2 of this NFL season, only about 10 players protested during the national anthem. The movement was dying. Trump reinvigorated it.

The problem with Sunday’s demonstrations was that the attention wasn’t in line with Kaepernick’s original purpose. After President Trump called out the protesters, the focus wasn’t on racial injustices or police brutality. The players’ focus became revolting against Trump and his comments.

The president spun the players’ objection to him as disrespectful to the U.S. flag and the soldiers who have defended it. Here’s where the president was dead wrong. Nobody died for that flag – no one died for the piece of cloth or the national anthem. They died for the liberties that the flag and the national anthem are supposed to embody.

The liberties that soldiers fight for include First Amendment rights. The NFL was specifically using the right to free speech and the right to peaceful assembly or protest. Trump was criticizing them and saying they should be fired for using the rights that American democracy was built upon.

Terry Bradshaw of CBS said, “Every American has the right to speak out and also to protest.”

That’s an essential part of the United States. If American citizens see wrongdoings, they should call out and protest those wrongdoings. They have every right to do so.

Many fans were booing the teams protesting during the anthem Sunday. This is potentially worse than the act of kneeling. The NFL teams were at least protesting in a quiet manner. They kept to themselves. The fans yelling weren’t even paying attention to the anthem. They were paying attention to the players and noisily interrupting the anthem.

All of this works both ways. NFL organizations have every right to protest. The rest of America has every right to criticize them for doing so. It’s that simple. People need to stop looking for everyone to align with their beliefs and remember that we’re allowed to have different values as Americans. It’s what makes the United States the great melting pot that it is.

Hopefully, all of this noise can settle down. The protesters need to remember the original message that Kaepernick was trying to convey, and President Trump needs to stop trying to divide people. He needs to be uniting people and trying to deal with all of the problems in our country and the world. He needs to focus on situations like the rebuilding of Puerto Rico and not lambasting professional sports leagues. Maybe he can go back to passing legislature. Or maybe he’ll go roast NBA players; who knows?

vinelca@miamioh.edu

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