The US military has made a determined effort to co-opt sports in America as a recruiting tool by exploiting patriotism. As Howard Bryant details in his book The Heritage, teams started having military salutes, singing of ‘God Bless America’, flyovers, recognition of troops, ‘surprise’ family reunions of returning troops, troops in VIP seats, etc. during games. While spectators and viewers were given the impression that these were done by the sports teams of their own volition as showing their patriotism, the reality was that the military was actually paying teams for all this. It was really crass, paid-for marketing.
This carefully cultivated climate made it easy for the teams and the professional leagues to punish players like football player Colin Kaepenick and soccer player Megan Rapinoe who knelt during the anthem to protest injustice. Trump exploited this climate to the hilt, calling such protestors ‘sons of bitches’ and demanding that team owners fire them and the wealthy white owners were only too happy to oblige.
But that has now boomeranged. Suddenly, such protests are being seen as the very least that any decent player can do to protest injustices in society. It has suddenly been transformed from something to be condemned to something that is admired and those who do not do it will be the ones who are seen in a bad light. We can expect to see kneeling all over the place. The response of Baker Mayfield, the young quarterback for the Cleveland Browns football team, to a fan is illustrative.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield plans to kneel during the national anthem this upcoming season to support protests of social injustice, police brutality and racism.
In answering a post from a fan on his Instagram account Saturday that pleaded with him not to kneel, Mayfield responded: “Pull your head out. I absolutely am.″
“If I lose fans, that’s OK. I’ve always spoken my mind. And that’s from the heart.”
On Friday, Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien said he would kneel with his players if they chose to do so during the anthem.
Earlier this week, while not going as far as O’Brien, new Browns coach Kevin Stefanski made it clear he would back his players in any peaceful demonstrations.
Stefanski attended a peaceful protest last weekend and has encouraged his players to “get in the arena”.
Sports leagues are also apologizing for their past condemnations of such acts, making symbolic gestures of solidarity with the protests, and repealing the rules they passed forbidding them, as in the case of US Soccer Federation that had passed a rule in 2017 targeting Rapinoe after she too knelt that, required all players to stand for the national anthem.
“We have not done enough to listen – especially to our players – to understand and acknowledge the very real and meaningful experiences of Black and other minority communities in our country. We apologize to our players – especially our Black players – staff, fans, and all who support eradicating racism,” US Soccer said in a statement on Wednesday. “Sports are a powerful platform for good, and we have not used our platform as effectively as we should have. We can do more on these specific issues and we will.”
I haven’t seen any real evidence that Trump actually follows any sports at all. It is likely that he just feigns interest in it because he thinks that ‘real men’ are fans of sports, especially the highly physical and violent ones. But he is of course livid that one of his sure-fire racist rabble-rousing tropes has suddenly become toothless, and he has vowed not to watch soccer anymore, like anyone cares.
I won’t be watching much anymore! https://t.co/s8nCg9EJSW
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2020
Let’s see if he also says that he will stop watching football, baseball, basketball, and NASCAR. He could have watched marble racing since marbles are unable to kneel but John Oliver sponsoring that pastime has made that option also not desirable.