President Donald Trump cancelled the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles’ invitation to visit the White House yesterday, when it became apparent that only a small number of players were actually willing to attend. The president then used the embarrassing incident as a pretext to slam National Football League (NFL) players who have protested police violence and racial injustice.
During the 2017 football season, one Eagles player knelt while the national anthem played and others stood raising their fists. Eagles players Malcolm Jenkins, Michael Bennett, and Chris Long, in particular, have been vocal about seeking solutions to racial inequality in the US.
Last month, the NFL, whose players are 70 percent black, rolled out a new policy allowing players who do not want to stand for the national anthem to remain in the locker rooms while the song is played, but imposing fines on teams whose players protest on the field. The policy has been widely criticized as an unprincipled effort by the league, caught between critics who argue the players should be free to protest on the field and a president who has said that players who kneel “shouldn’t be in the country,” to have it both ways.
It’s not that the president is against protests, per se. Last weekend, he applauded Chicago police for protesting after a civilian review board decided to punish an officer involved in the fatal shooting of two African Americans, teenager Quintonio LeGrier and a bystander, Bettie Jones.
If only Trump responded to issues of police accountability with the same dedication and fervor.
Last year, police across the US killed almost 1000 people. Far too many of these killings are impossible to justify, and families often find they have no meaningful opportunity to secure justice. Even in the face of live footage of excessive or lethal force, officers have often not been held accountable.
NFL players, renowned for athleticism and skill, should also be able to use their elevated positions in society to stand up for justice, rather than be cajoled into displays of patriotism.