When I hear POTUS Trump bitching about NFL Players “disrespecting our flag,” suggesting that we should all “ love to see” NFL owners say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now,’” (1) I assume that most people hearing Trump’s trash-speak find his statements as ludicrous and intolerable as I do.
Until yesterday, I always assumed that any reasonable person would know why San Francisco Quarterback Colin Kaepernick sacrificed his livelihood to sit during the national anthem in support of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, and why other NFL players have shown solidarity with Kaepernick and the movement by “taking a knee” during the anthem. In an interview with NFL Media, Kaepernick explained his motives:
“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.” (2)
Pretty clear, right? And yet…
Yesterday, I found myself in a conversation with someone I respect as intelligent and interesting, a fashion-forward medical professional who teaches at a local university (we shall call her ‘Donna’). I was astounded to discover that Donna thought players were just disrespecting the flag for no good reason, that the issue of racially-motivated police brutality, was a made-up excuse and that the flag holds more importance than the ‘freedoms’ it represents.
She asked me, point blank, what I thought about the NFL controversy. I answered, without hesitation, that the players who knelt were exercising their First Amendment right to “freedom of speech.”
Donna seemed surprised and said, “But they are disrespecting our flag.”
I said, “I have to listen to KKK hate messages denigrating Jews and people of color under a confederate flag because these messages are protected as Free Speech; NFL players respectfully kneeling during the anthem doesn’t”t bother me at all.
“But people died for the flag,” she countered. “It represents freedom.”
“And I said, “People died for the ideals that the flag represents, one of those ideals being Freedom of Speech. When the symbol becomes more important than the ideal, we might as well be Russia.”
This comment ended our discussion of politics—thankfully—and we went on to other safer topics. But the encounter has since weighed on me.
I am certain my words had zero effect on Donna’s opinion, but her opinion most certainly had an effect on me. I realized, for the first time, how truly powerful Trump’s message can be, reordering the truth to fire up his angry, white base; bulldozing over an adversary’s true motives to supplant them with fabricated motives that serve Trump’s agenda, leaving out selected facts to hijack and pervert the original message.
The power of the three-word brand thrives under Trump. “Disrepecting Our Flag” has becomes the new mantra for indignant white people who have apparently never seen the video clips of Philando Castile’s unprovoked traffic stop murder, of Eric Gardner being choked for fifteen seconds by an NYPD officer, or of Charles Kinsey, North Miami behavioral specialist, shot by police while lying on the ground with his hands up, trying to protect an autistic boy with a toy truck in his hands. (3)
The media covered all of these events using actual footage taken on the scene–a source hard to dispute. Yet, if Trump were to brand this footage “Fake News,” his devotees would reject this on-the-scene footage as false. Much of the blame for this lies with POTUS who lies whenever lying will get him off the hook. But some of the blame must lie with the media’s penchant for sensationalism and a lowering of journalistic standards in the internet age.
Recently, after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, news outlets began touting this terrible incident as “the worst shooting in U.S. history.” They keep adding new words to further qualify this false hyperbole–‘mass’ to modify ‘shooting’ and ‘modern’ to modify ‘history.” But the Twitter universe rapidly corrected the media’s false claim, listing at least six events that clocked higher death tolls than Vegas.
One such event was the “Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, when a mob of angry white people decided to bring down “Black Wall Street, an affluent African American neighborhood called Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
At the time, local papers reported this attack on Greenwood a “race riot,” that began with an undefined incident in an elevator between a black man and a white woman. The man, Dick Rowland, was arrested, even though the woman refused to press charges. Lynch mobs formed, armed blacks went to the courthouse to offer support to the sheriff, a shot was fired and after multiple exchanges, a white mob invaded the community of Greenwood and burnt it to the ground. The death toll as reported by newspapers in 1921 ranged from 30 to 200, but Red Cross records suggest that approximately 300 people lost their lives that Memorial Day weekend, many of them gunned down in the streets of Greenwood, most of them black. When the smoke cleared, 10,000 Greenwood residents were left homeless. (4)
Somehow this “mass shooting” incident seems to have eluded most history books and most media outlets touting the Las Vegas shooting as ” the worst.”
Reading this story, seeing some of the recent footage of blatant police racism, I cannot fathom how anyone could object to NFL players politely “taking a knee” during a national anthem that was written at a time when white enslavement of blacks was common practice.
Trump’s willful hijacking of the players’ message, sadly, overrides the truth in this matter. To me, it seems that the truth rarely graces Trump’s lips or those of his minions, but to others, everything this President says remains gospel and no evidence, no fact, no logic and no media coverage, no matter how reputable, can change their minds. How do you combat a con artist who has completely mesmerized half of the country?
I have no answer to this question.
Above rendering by M. Daniels, from NBC news coverage.
- Graham, Bryant A. “Donald Trump Blasts NFL Anthem Protestors; ‘Get That Son of a Bitch Off the Field” The Guardian, Sept. 23, 2017: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/22/donald-trump-nfl-national-anthem-protests
- Wyche, Steve. “Colin Kaeperick explains why he sat during the national anthem.” NFL Media, August 28, 2016: http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000691077/article/colin-kaepernick-explains-why-he-sat-during-national-anthem
- “The Shooting of Charles Kinsey.” Wikipedia, 2017: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Charles_Kinsey
- “Tulsa Race Riot.” Wikipedia. Last edited, Oct. 2017: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulsa_race_riot