President Trump has repeatedly portrayed NFL players who kneel during the national anthem as disrespecting the American flag, and by extension, the country.
But that’s not an accurate portrayal of why then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee during the anthem early last season — to protest police brutality against people of color.
During a news conference on Monday, a black reporter asked Trump to respond to players like Kaepernick who view their anthem protests as being about social injustice, not patriotism.
“What about police-involved shootings as it relates to the NFL, that is what the players are saying is the crux of why they’re taking a knee, sir — the police-involved shooting issue,” reporter April Ryan asked. “What will you do about that?”
But Trump dodged the question. Instead of addressing police brutality, he again tried to frame the protests as being about respect, and suggested the fact that some people support him means NFL players are wrong.
“It is very disrespectful to our country when they take a knee during our national anthem,” he said. “It is very disrespectful to our country when they take a knee during our national anthem, number one. Number two — the people of our country are very angry at the NFL. All you have to do is look at their ratings and look at their stadiums, you see empty seats where you never saw them before. A lot of people are very angry at it. It is highly disrespectful. They shouldn’t do it.”
While Trump’s attacks on the NFL have caused the league’s popularity to plummet among his supporters, TV ratings remain broadly strong, and 13 of the league’s 32 teams have consistently played in stadiums filled above capacity during the early weeks of the 2017 season.
But more importantly, Trump’s dodge reflects that he has nothing to say to those who want to address police brutality against black people. In fact, Trump has signaled he wants to see more of it.
During a speech to police officers in Brentwood, New York in July, Trump encouraged cops to be rough with suspects, saying, “When you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddywagon, you just see ’em thrown in rough. I said please don’t be too nice.”
A “rough ride” of the sort Trump endorsed resulted in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray after he was injured in a Baltimore Police Department transport van in April 2015. Days after Trump’s speech, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president was merely “making a joke” when he called for more brutality.