Tweets more condemnation of anthem kneelers. Pundits’ heads explode.
ESPN pundits had even more outrage-inspiring material to work with Monday morning after President Trump quadrupled down on his condemnation of the national anthem protesters in the NFL and praised NASCAR for handling the situation as he says the league should have done. He also offered up a few of his own hashtags to counter the anthem kneelers’ call to #TakeTheKnee.
In a series of tweets that continued the message he began at a rally Friday night, Trump held up NASCAR as the model for how to handle disrespect of the country from its members, highlighted the chorus of boos that met the 17 New England Patriots who chose to kneel Sunday, once again called for the NFL to take action, offered up some counters to the protesters’ hashtag — #StandForOurAnthem and #BoycottNFL — and praised true patriot Pat Tillman who left the NFL to join the Army in 2002 and gave his life defending the country.
“So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won’t put up with disrespecting our Country or our Flag – they said it loud and clear!” he wrote early Monday morning. “Many people booed the players who kneeled yesterday (which was a small percentage of total). These are fans who demand respect for our Flag! … 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!”
“NFLplayer PatTillman joined U.S. Army in 2002,” Trump wrote later, with an image of the American hero in uniform. “He was killed in action 2004. He fought 4our country/freedom. #StandForOurAnthem #BoycottNFL.”
Trump’s tweets were immediately incorporated into ESPN’s programming, ESPN’s morning radio show Mike and Mike reading and responding to them critically on Monday’s program. The hosts and their guest spent most of the time focused on Trump’s assertion that this “has nothing to do with race,” which he also said on Sunday.
The firestorm began on Friday night at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, during which President Trump unloaded on NFL players who disrespect the country by refusing to stand for the anthem. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b**** off the field right now. Out. He’s fired! He’s fired!'” Trump told the crowd. The president went on to urge fans to “leave the stadium” if they saw even one player disrespecting the country. After massive pushback, Trump doubled down and even intensified his criticism, calling on Americans to boycott the NFL.
Trump’s slam on the players and league resulted in exactly what one would expect: the reviving of the fading anthem protest “movement.” Football Sunday turned into America-protesting “Resistance” Sunday, with dozens of players from all over the league who had never knelt before, now choosing to kneel in solidarity with their anthem-protesting teammates. A few teams refused to come out on the field for the Star-Spangled Banner, including the Pittsburgh Steelers (though one player, former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva defied coach Mike Tomlin and came out and stood anyway). The response from ESPN and the other major sports networks was likewise predictable: they cheered the images of scores of players kneeling for the anthem and joining the anti-Trump Resistance.