Colin Kaepernick started the fire, but just as its embers were cooling, President Donald Trump poured gasoline on it.
Kaepernick was a San Francisco 49ers quarterback last season who declined to stand on the sidelines before games while the national anthem was played. Sitting (and later kneeling) was his way of protesting, he said, "a country that oppresses black people and people of color," and he particularly cited police killings of African-Americans.
His stance split his teammates and other current and former players, some of whom in solidarity also began to refuse to stand at attention before games. Many football fans were infuriated, believing the protests to be disrespectful and unpatriotic.
The displays of dissent subsequently ebbed: Kaepernick is not on an NFL roster this season, and the Associated Press reported that a week ago only six players protested.
That changed last weekend after President Trump, at a campaign rally, said:"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, out, he's fired, he's fired.' "
Trump not only revived an issue that appeared to have run its course, he made it bigger than it ever had been — and in typical fashion he made it about himself.
More than 200 NFL players, coaches and even team owners responded Sunday by kneeling for the anthem, and/or locking arms in a display of unity, not in support of Kaepernick's cause but for freedom of speech — and against the president. Even some of those who supported Trump's election, including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, sided with the players.
Trump's inflammatory rhetoric ignited a conflagration of outrage on all sides. An Oakland Athletics catcher, the son of a U.S. Army soldier, became the first major league baseball player to kneel before the anthem. Two prominent NASCAR team owners, Richard Childress and Richard Petty, said they would punish one of their drivers if he protested during the anthem. On the other hand, Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver, tweeted Monday in support of peaceful protest.
America in 2017 doesn't lack for political conflict, and it doesn't need this fight. It needs spaces that are relatively free of politics, partisanship, and presidential bluster, places where Americans can shed their political jerseys and find common ground. Otherwise, the perpetual bickering becomes suffocating, which makes for an unhealthy society.
The nation is too evenly divided politically to "fire" everyone who expresses opinions with which we disagree. Private organizations have that right, but they should exercise it most judiciously, and not in a knee-jerk fashion to stay one step ahead of the outrage posse. Businesses should make those decisions without the influence of powerful government officials.
America needs a president who speaks to the entire country, not some guy at the end of the bar yelling at the TV
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD