Fueled by President Donald Trump’s racist rants, right-wing politicians and pundits have been criticizing NFL players all season long for protesting police brutality and racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem. Super Bowl Sunday gave several Trump allies the opportunity to resume these attacks, despite the fact that no Philadelphia Eagles player took a knee the entire NFL season, and that the Patriots have close ties to Trump. No player from the Eagles or Patriots has protested during the national anthem in any form since Week 12.
Nonetheless, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R-NE), a proud Trump supporter, announced this weekend that he was officially proclaiming Sunday “Stand for the flag Super Bowl Sunday.” Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC) issued a similar decree earlier this week.
In an interview from the Super Bowl, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News she didn’t think there would be any players kneeling in protest ahead of the sport’s premiere event. “In my house and I think in many households across this country, we say you take a knee for the Lord and you stand for the flag — it’s a very simple calculation,” Conway said.
Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), currently a candidate for governor, announced she was releasing a new ad Sunday asking people to stand for the national anthem. “It’s too bad that the league doesn’t respect the patriotism of our national anthem,” Black says.
The misconception that athletes kneeling during the national anthem is an act of disrespect toward the flag and members of the armed services has been exacerbated by Trump for months. “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!,'” Trump said during a rally in reference to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the first player to take a knee.
The president, along with many of his supporters in politics and media, continued to bash the players and mischaracterize their protests — but the kneeling continued regardless, with players explaining that they were using their platform to speak out against injustice.
And the movement started by Kaepernick spread well beyond the confines of the NFL. ThinkProgress tracked “the Kaepernick effect” for more than a year and found evidence of more than 3,500 people taking steps to join the cause in 41 states and four countries.
Ricketts backed Trump in the 2016 election and has since praised the president as “forward-thinking.” Ricketts’ parents, Joe and Marlene, gave $1 million to a pro-Trump super PAC. And his brother, Todd, was nominated by Trump to be deputy commerce secretary before withdrawing his nomination. Todd was named the Republican National Committee’s next finance chair this week.
Black’s campaign website proudly proclaims that she is “happy” to stand next to Trump, “despite criticism of his coarse language and colorful past with women.” (At least 21 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct.)