Dallas Cowboys players and the team’s owner knelt and locked arms before a nationally televised American football game, sustaining a league-wide show of solidarity in response to Donald Trump’s critique of similar protests.
Boos reverberated through the stadium as the team took a knee. During the anthem itself, both the Cowboys players and their opponents on the Arizona Cardinals stood with their arms intertwined.
Some African-American football players have refused to rise during the national anthem in recent years, using a highly visible platform to protest police brutality. While controversial, those actions have become a recurring feature of NFL games.
The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 25, 2017
But Mr Trump doused the smouldering issue with rhetorical gasoline last week, telling supporters that NFL owners should “get that son of a bitch off the field” when “somebody disrespects our flag”. In the days since he has continued to call for protesting players to lose their jobs and backed a boycott of the NFL.
In the process, Mr Trump has both infuriated and unified players across the NFL and other American sports leagues. Scores of NFL players kneeled, linked arms on the field or remained in their locker rooms during Sunday’s games. Several coaches and executives backed their players.
In a conference call with reporters, league spokesman Joe Lockhart said Mr Trump had not reached out to the NFL.
“Everyone should know, including the President, that this is what real locker room talk is”, said Mr Lockhart. The choice of words from Mr Lockhart, who worked for former President Bill Clinton, conjured Mr Trump’s dismissing his boasts about sexually assaulting women as “locker room talk”.
While Mr Trump has mostly focused his ire on football players, he also announced on Twitter that basketball player Stephen Curry, a star of the champion Golden State Warriors, would not be welcome at the White House. Basketball stars including LeBron James rallied to Mr Curry’s defence, excoriating the President for what they called needless divisiveness.
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!
— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017
The protests also extended to professional basketball and baseball games. Athletes on both teams clashing in the Women’s National Basketball Association finals locked arms or remained in the locker room, while Oakland A’s baseball player Bruce Maxwell became the first Major League Baseball player to take a knee – an action backed by the baseball players’ union.
“The hope inherent in the non-violent protests we are seeing is of a collective coming together to address the divisive and culturally destructive challenges that exist”, Major League Baseball Players Association President Tony Clark said in a statement.
In an op-ed, San Francisco 49ers player Eric Reid said the first protests, in 2016, were spurred by “reports about the incredible number of unarmed black people being killed by the police” and intended to draw attention to “many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system”.
“It’s disheartening and infuriating that President Trump has referred to us with slurs but the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., as ‘very fine people,’” Mr Reid wrote. “His remarks are a clear attempt to deepen the rift that we’ve tried so hard to mend”.