Many sports fans often beg for their favorite athletes and sports reporters to “stick to sports” and to keep politics and sports separate. But these days, it seems to be politicians who are the most adamant about tying the two topics together.
Weeks after President Donald Trump ignited a firestorm by arguing for the NFL to fire any player who protested systemic racism by taking a knee during the national anthem, Republican Ed Gillespie is trying to use his base’s hatred of the protesting players to make a last-minute push for votes in the hotly-contested Virginia governor’s race.
“You’d never take a knee… so take a stand on election day,” the Ed Gillespie for Governor flyer reads.
Gillespie has leaned heavily on the culture wars in his campaign against Democrat Ralph Northam.
Last month, Gillespie said that he would ban sanctuary cities, even though Virginia currently doesn’t have any. In an ad, he tied the non-existent sanctuary cities to the threat of gang violence, and juxtaposed the words “Kill. Rape. Control” over the faces of Latino men.
“Ralph Northam cast the deciding vote in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous illegal immigrants back on the street, increasing the threat of gangs like MS-13,” the ad stated. “We have to ban sanctuary cities and deport dangerous illegal immigrants who commit crimes, starting with ruthless MS-13 gang members.”
Gillespie has also said that he wants to preserve the state’s Confederate monuments — a fact that certainly delights Trump.
Therefore, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Gillespie — a former counselor to President George W. Bush, Republican National Committee chairman, and long-time Washington lobbyist — would try to exploit the hatred of NFL protesters in the campaign’s final days. After all, the vast majority of the NFL players who are protesting are black, and much of the criticism surrounding the protests has been incredibly racist, so this fits right in with the racist dog-whistles Gillespie has been sending out throughout the campaign.
While Gillespie hasn’t gone “full Trump” and advocated for players who protest during the national anthem to be fired, he has been critical of their decision to take a knee.
“My view is that I find it offensive when people don’t stand for the national anthem and honor our flag and all that it stands for,” Gillespie said.
The polls for the Virginia governor’s race have been all over the place, but one this week showed the two candidates tied. The election is on Tuesday, and the result is expected to have widespread implications for both parties headed into the all-important 2018 midterms.