Skip to Content

raceAhead: Trump Unites the NFL

It appears that President Trump has managed to unite at least part of the nation.

In a red-meat ramble delivered in his signature “campaign rally” style, the president joked, cajoled, and alternately threatened his way through a speech in Alabama last Friday. The purpose of the visit was to support the now flagging candidacy of Senator Luther Strange, but a sidebar about American values – as in Strange has them – inspired this booming aside:

“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!’”

And with that, unemployed Colin Kaepernick got a second chance to make his point, this time with a little help from his friends.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell immediately dismissed Trump’s comments as divisive, and dozens of others followed suit. Online feeds were filled with photos and commentary about all the players – like the Tennessee Titans and the Seattle Seahawks – who took a knee or linked arms. At least two national anthem singers kneeled in protest. So did members of the WNBA, who deserve more credit than they get for their longstanding interest in racial justice. Bruce Maxwell, a rookie catcher and military brat, became the first Major League Baseball player to protest during the national anthem. His teammates on the Oakland A’s “fear what’s next,” declares CNN.

Even Stevie Wonder, closing out the Global Citizen Concert in NYC this weekend, took a knee before he performed. His gesture prompted former congressman Joe Walsh to tweet, “Stevie Wonder takes a knee for the Anthem during a concert. Another ungrateful black multi millionaire.”

The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb places the negative response to these protests as part of a long continuum of disdain for black folks who dare speak out.

He begins with Louis Armstrong, who canceled an overseas goodwill tour planned by the State Department, after a high school journalist asked him what he felt about the situation at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The governor had sent National Guard troops in to prevent the now-famous Little Rock Nine from integrating the school in 1957. The question prompted “Armstrong to refer to the Arkansas governor as several varieties of ‘motherfucker,’” explains Cobb, though the invective was changed by the paper to “ignorant ploughboy,” evidently. After Armstrong canceled the tour, counter-protesters, angry at Satchmo’s “lack of patriotism,” began to boycott his U.S. performances.

“Yet the belief endures, from Armstrong’s time and before, that visible, affluent African-Americans entertainers are obliged to adopt a pose of ceaseless gratitude—appreciation for the waiver that spared them the low status of so many others of their kind,” says Cobb.

“There again is the presence of outrage for events that should shock the conscience, and the reality of people who sincerely believe, or who have at least convincingly lied to themselves, that dissenters are creating an issue where there is none.”

A writer named Angela Denker focuses on a different aspect of this difficult history. Denker describes herself as a delightful mix of things – a sportswriter, a Lutheran pastor, faith blogger and a family woman. In this powerful essay, “The Power and Threat of Kneeling,” she analyzes Kaepernick’s professional skills succinctly, while pointing out that he is a man of a very specific faith – baptized Methodist, confirmed Lutheran, and a Baptist church-goer during college. He even has Psalm 18:39 tattooed on his arm. While his protest is part of his Christian tradition, Kaepernick is not afforded the courtesy that is bestowed on, say, a Tim Tebow. “Is it possible we don’t want to see his Christian faith because Kaepernick doesn’t look like the white, all-American, handsome Texas quarterback that white America believes is all that’s great about football and America?”

This has a long history, too. In April 1960, Martin Luther King described this spiritual divide on Meet the Press. “I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation – one of the shameful tragedies that 11:00 on Sunday Morning is one of the most segregated hours… in Christian America.”

And in many ways, it still is.

And it will take more than a blustery speech to unite this divide. “This is about a deep fear of what Kaepernick has tapped into,” says Denker. “A shaking of America’s Christian roots and a question about who owns the narrative of Jesus: white Evangelical Christian culture or African American liberation movements?”

On Point

The situation in Puerto Rico in increasingly desperateInformation about the now devastated island trickled out over the weekend after representatives from more than 50 municipalities were finally able to meet at emergency operations centers in San Juan. The entire island remains without power. Food and supplies are running out. Waterlogged roads make travel nearly impossible. “There is horror in the streets,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told The Washington Post. “People are actually becoming prisoners in their own homes.”Washington Post

For journalists with disabilities, obstacles abound but so do solutions
Michelle Hackman now covers politics for Vox, but in this first-person account, finding a job was never guaranteed. “Those who make it in the field are the standout go-getters who seek out work-arounds to lessen the burden of their disabilities on employers,” she explains. They become their own IT experts, often hacking together solutions that help them do their work without drawing attention to perceived limitations. “And they are the ones willing to tolerate relentless, if latent, prejudice from sources and editors alike who often have trouble squaring disability with competence.”

It’s not just Jimmy Kimmel – other celebrities have shaped our thinking on health and policy
While the late-night talk show host has become the surprising face of the health care debate, he’s not the only one who has used fame to shape thinking. Here are five others, who for good or bad, have changed minds. While it took Prince Harry to change the narrative around mental health, I was surprised to learn that Charlie Sheen may very well have saved lives.

The Woke Leader

We were here first
New York Magazine has dug deep into the archives of 1969 and republished a devastating read by the legendary Pete Hamill on the plight of the people formerly known as the working class: The white lower middle class, “the ethnics, the blue collar types,” who have been pushed to the point of desperation. Come for the sepia-toned language of race and class, stay for the realization that what vexes the people at Trump rallies is nothing new. 
New York Magazine

A documentary charts the portrayal of “American Indians” in Hollywood
‘Reel Injun’ is an outstanding 2009 documentary directed by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond, that explores the portrayal of the Indian through the Hollywood lens through the century long history of film. There are many jaw-dropping surprises; some of the earliest films ever made were made by indigenous people celebrating their own culture. Then along came John Wayne. Though an inspiring indigenous filmmaker movement is growing, they’re struggling to balance the deep cultural damage that continues to this day. If you make time for one film outside your normal viewing habits, please make it this one. 

The truth about gender quotas on boards
When Jacob August Riis immigrated from Denmark to New York City in 1870, he had nothing but the clothes on his back and a dream of a better life. Just twenty years later, as a pioneering photojournalist, his photos documenting the wrenching slum conditions that immigrants lived got the attention of then police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, and helped change public policy. His pictures can still provide a shock. 


We must be clear: We live in a time when equivocating on these matters furthers the sin of racism even to violence and death. … Any “church” that cannot denounce white supremacy without hesitancy and equivocation is a dead, Jesus denying assembly. No 2 ways about it. I’m done. With this Twitter spiel. With “evangelicalism.” With all the racist and indifferent nonsense that passes as “Christian.”
—Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile