Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Sport trumps hate

Posted on 26 September 2017 by Louis Olvera

United States President Donald Trump made headlines in the sports world by attacking NFL and NBA stars this past weekend. Both organizations and more fired back and made a statement to the president.

United States President Donald Trump has entered a new stage of public debate controversy after this past weekend. Having already made headlines in matters such as diplomacy, racism, religion, sexual gender and healthcare, he has now entered the world of sports. It all started on Friday, September 22nd, at a rally in Hunstville, Alabama, where President Trump had travelled to the Southern state to help endorse Senator Luther Strange. After rambling about his 2016 election win and North Korea, he got into the NFL discussion of players kneeling during the National Anthem:

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s FIRED!’” Trump boomed.

The Alabama crowd erupted in chants of “USA! USA! USA!” and many conservative Trump supporters applauded him for saying what not many have the guts to say. However, as to any eye-opening statement from the POTUS, the criticism of his comments was particularly strong on social media. Athletes, sports pundits and political figures reminded President Trump that the United States is a confident democracy, where its people have the right to take a knee instead of standing up during the National Anthem. The responses that mattered came from the NFL and the owners. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released this statement via the NFL’s website:

“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game, and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”

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Despite not being mentioned by name, Goodell was clearly responding to President Trump’s comments. A majority of NFL owners, most of whom supported Trump and donated to his campaign, echoed Goodell’s words.

Then, the very next day, President Trump decided to turn his gaze on the NBA. Warriors superstar Stephen Curry had told reporters that due to his disagreement with Trump’s policies, he would not be visiting the White House, which caused the President to tweet the following:

“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team,” Trump tweeted. “Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”

Trump’s attack on Curry did not go over well, particularly after his previous comments about the NFL players the night before. The result was a barrage of tweets at Trump by some of basketball’s biggest stars like Chris Paul, Draymond Green, and Kobe Bryant. Lebron James tweeted: “U bum, @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

The Warriors soon released a statement defending their start player and gladly accepted Trump’s non-invitation. NBA commissioner Adam Silver also commented on the issue: “I was in favour of the team visiting the White House and thought it was a rare opportunity for these players to share their views directly to the President. I am disappointed that this will not happen. More importantly, I am proud of our players for taking an active role in their communities and continuing to speak out on critically important issues.”

The surprising sports news did not stop there. Oakland Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell, who earlier in the day profanely bashed President Trump on Instagram, became the first Major League Baseball player to kneel during the National Anthem on Saturday, before their home game against the Texas Rangers. Maxwell, who placed his hand on his heart and faced the flag during the anthem while taking a knee, is the product of a U.S. military family. Maxwell had full support from his teammates and coaching staff. The Athletics issued a statement on Twitter afterwards which read: “The Oakland Athletics pride ourselves on being inclusive. We respect and support all our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.” Maxwell said after the game that it was a tough decision to make but after Trump’s comments, he could not hold back his reaction any longer.

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Everyone’s attention was now on NFL Sunday to see how players and personnel would react during the National Anthem. Sunday, September 24th 2017 will forever go down in National Football League history. From London to Los Angeles, the players, coaches, and team personnel made their voices heard. Teams varied on the type of protests they did. Some players locked arms in solidarity (along with team owners and coaches), others took a knee or placed a hand on the ones who did kneel, while some teams refused to enter the field at all, which was the case for the game between Tennessee Titans and the Seattle Seahawks.

Both teams agreed to stay in their respective locker rooms during the National Anthem. Even the singer of the anthem, Meghan Linsey, took a knee when she sang the last note, and she was not the only singer to do so. The Pittsburgh Steelers joined in on the powerful statements, by promising to stay in the stadium tunnels during the anthem. However, one star player did go out onto the edge of the tunnel and onto the field to salute the flag. That was starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who is a veteran of the Army and has completed three tours in Afghanistan, once earning a Bronze Star of valour as a platoon leader.

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Hundreds of players and coaches later explained their respective decisions to the media after the games. Some just hope that everyone can move past this after this week while others voiced strong opinions against Trump. Whether the protests were about defending teammates or the lack of racial equality in the country, the NFL made a bold statement by not let Trump win.

Of course, the President did not see it that way and boasted how there were more players standing than kneeling, and those who knelt were booed by the crowd. He congratulated NASCAR in a tweet, and thanked them for respecting the country as they stood during the National Anthem. NASCAR later released a statement via their Twitter account: “Sports are a unifying influence in our society, bringing people of differing backgrounds and beliefs together. Our respect for the anthem has always been a hallmark of our pre-race events. Thanks to the sacrifices of many, we live in a country of unparalleled freedoms and countless liberties, including the right to peacefully express one’s opinion.”

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Sporting events have always been seen as a form of escapism for people to momentarily forget their problems or conflicts. They are an opportunity for people to unite in a unified setting and enjoy the thrill of competition. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump made that a hard thing to do as the mixture of social issues and politics took over sports this past weekend. Once again, however, athletes and fans were able to act responsibly and ethically to set an example for fans worldwide. Colin Kaepernick initiated the kneeling movement over a year ago, as he knelt by himself next to a few Gatorade coolers during a pre-season game to protest police brutality. And yet the ironic fact is, while Kaepernick started the movement, and hundreds of his fellow players have followed suit, he remains without a team.