In the last 24 hours, President Donald Trump has criticized NFL players who refuse to stand for the national anthem and NBA superstar Steph Curry for expressing ambivalence about whether or not to attend the traditional White House celebration for champions in professional sports. Trump condemned football players who either sit or protest in some other way during the national anthem and chastised the NFL owners for not coming down harder on them. He added: “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 is fired. He’s fired!. Total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect of everything that we stand for. Everything that we stand for.”
On Saturday morning, Trump tweeted this about Curry: “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”. Then 2 more tweets came around the NFL: “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” On one level, this is classic Trump. He feels as though he is being disrespected — whether by NFL players not standing for the national anthem or by Curry saying if it was up to him, the Golden State Warriors would not visit the White House. (The Warriors, in a statement Saturday afternoon, said they would come to Washington and do events to promote diversity and inclusiveness rather than meet with Trump.) They hit him, so he hit back.
In Alabama, Trump called the players who refuse to stand for the anthem “sons of bitches” and insisted that any owner worth his or her salt should fire them immediately. That got a lot of attention — and rightly so. But it’s what Trump said next that’s really telling: “Total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect of everything that we stand for”. Notice the use of “our heritage” and “we” in those two sentences above. The thing is: We don’t live in a color-blind society. Slavery sits at the founding roots of America. The goal of racial equality remains a goal, not an achievement. To pretend otherwise is to willfully blind yourself to hundreds years of history. Even more context darkens the picture for Trump. He played at racially coded language throughout his presidential campaign. He also displayed a stunningly simplistic view of the black community. As President, Trump has done little too ease concerns about his racial views, in fact, has heightened them. His handling of the Charlottesville, Virginia, protests in which white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched in protest of the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee — was particularly alarming. Even as the protests turned violent Trump claimed that there were violent factions “on many sides” to be blamed. Although his administration tried desperately to move on from his remarks, it was made clear recently that Trump meant exactly what he said. The day after meeting at the White House with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the lone black Republican in the Senate, Trump was quick to note that he had been right in his initial comments after Charlottesville.
Maybe Trump is simply saying whatever comes to mind, that there is no broader strategy to his comments. But it’s impossible to conclude that after Charlottesville, Trump is totally ignorant of the racial context in which his remarks on the NFL and NBA land. No one is that oblivious. First of all, no one gave these players anything. They worked for it. Second, just because you are a professional athlete doesn’t mean you don’t get to be a citizen, too. We don’t tell accountants, for example, that they can’t express their opinions on politics and the culture more broadly, right? So why should we be in the business of telling professional athletes? And would Trump feel the same way if the majority of those protesting the anthem were white?
Trump defenders will note that Trump didn’t name names, other than Curry, when he blasted professional athletes. That “we” are adding color to it, not him. But that doesn’t fly. As I noted above, both the NFL and NBA are majority black. And those refusing to stand during the national anthem are, with one exception, also all black. Trump knows this. He is an avid consumer of TV and culture. Which means that he is purposely playing at and with racial animus here. That is a dark thing to do as the leader of the United States. And something he deserves to be condemned for.
It appeared former Michigan star point guard Trey Burke finally had found a home with NBA training camps ramping up this week. But apparently he remains an NBA free agent. Citing unnamed sources, the Vertical’s Shams Charania reported that Burke, a free agent, was finalizing a deal to sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who made major news Saturday by acquiring star forward Carmelo Anthony from the Knicks for center Enes Kanter, forward Doug McDermott and a future second-round pick. But hours later, the deal appears off. The deal was non-guaranteed. Burke was picked ninth in the NBA draft by Minnesota, before being traded to the Utah Jazz. In 2013, he brought the Wolverines within minutes of winning the NCAA title. Draft night angered the Detroit Pistons fan base since the franchise bypassed the local star to draft Georgia shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Burke made the NBA’s All-Rookie team his first year, but he struggled his next three seasons, hurt by a lack of size and quickness.