The New Orleans Saints joined with the rest of the NFL teams, owners and players in a show of unity and solidarity, the likes which have never been seen in the history of the conservative leaning sport. Unprecedented, the protest by the players who in some cases included the team’s owners and coaches with locked arms, proved to be a powerful response to insults leveled at professional athletes who choose to engage in social justice protest by sitting or kneeling during the National Anthem. This show of unity, which much of the nation never expected to witness, spread quickly to other professional sports teams including the MLB and the NBA.
The protests this weekend by NFL players and other professional athletes to President Trump’s attacks on their right to protest could best be summed up by a comment from a Twitter user going by the name of Frederick Douglass: “Sons of bitches join up with the nasty women and bad hombres and take back our country.”
Those “sons of bitches,” as referred to by Trump during a rally in Alabama on Friday, describe NFL players who kneel or sit during the national anthem prior to games, following the example of former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick who began the protest last year to highlight injustices and police brutality against minorities, including Black men callously killed by police.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said in 2016. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
But unlike the White Supremacists and neo-Nazis who protested in Charlottesville and, according to the president, included some “very fine people,” any NFL player who dares protest is a “son of a bitch” who should be fired.
Beyond his statement, Trump later tweeted: “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
In response to Trump’s inflammatory statements, representatives for New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson issued the following statement:
Our organization takes great pride in equality and inclusion and find the comments by the president disappointing and inappropriate relative to our players on this issue. Tom Benson served in the military and continues to this day to support all military branches and feels strongly that we honor those men and women who defend our freedoms and our freedom of speech. He also believes that the very players that represent the Saints and Pelicans organizations should be allowed to share or express their feelings. We prefer to take this moment in time and work together, all of us, to stop the divisiveness. Our players and our organization serve the New Orleans Community selflessly and do so without care of race, creed or sexual orientation and that makes us a better City and a better team. We believe strongly in honoring our flag and the National Anthem and what it represents and we support our players. We all must strive to show that we are all Americans and continue to work towards equality for all. The NFL and NBA, perhaps more than any sports, have the power to bring communities together.
Overall, 14 Saints players sat down or dropped their heads in silent protest during the National Anthem in response to Trump’s statements. The show of solidarity by the league and in particular the Saints was not well received by some members of the LA State House of Representatives. On Sunday (Sept. 24), State House Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, called for Louisiana’s government to pull state funding, tax breaks and other support from the professional football franchise.
“Disrespecting our National Anthem and flag in the name of social injustice is the highest form of hypocrisy,” Havard said in a written statement Monday.
State Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, has also requested the Saints’ state benefits be reviewed by the Legislature’s Senate and House Budget Committees as a result of the players’ protest. Hodges is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees state finances.
Sunday’s first NFL game, between Jacksonville and Baltimore, was being played in London and by 9:30 am ET had the largest number of players to date kneeling during the anthem.
By the afternoon, more than 200 NFL players representing all 28 teams that played Sunday either sat or kneeled during the National Anthem prior to their respective games.
Three teams chose to remain in their locker rooms during the Star-Spangled Banner. Some of the protesting players were White, but the overwhelming majority were Black. According to the NFL, about 70 percent of the league’s players are Black.
“I’m ok for being fired for what I believe in,” tweeted Green Bay Packers’ Martellus Bennett. “The idea of @realDonaldTrump thinking that suggesting firing me from football, confirms that he thinks that it’s all I can do as a Black man”
“Me taking a knee doesn’t change the fact that I support our military, I’m a patriot and I love my country,” Buffalo Bills Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander told the AP. “But I also recognize there are some social injustices in this country and today I wanted to take a knee in support of my brothers who have been doing it. … I just wanted to show them that I was with them today, especially in the backdrop of our president making the comments about our players, about their mothers. And then you put that in conjunction with how he tried to gray-area Nazism and KKK members as being fine people, I had to take a knee.”
“We stand with our brothers,” Baltimore Ravens Linebacker Terrell Suggs said, according to the AP. “They have the right and we knelt with them today. To protest, non-violent protest, is as American as it gets, so we knelt with them today to let them know that we’re a unified front.”