Trump reignites feud with NFL protesters

August 13, 2018

President Trump is reigniting his feud with the NFL over players protesting during the national anthem, a topic that he considers a political winner just as the midterm elections are heating up.

After several players knelt or raised fists at the start of preseason games on Thursday, Mr. Trump went on the attack.

“The NFL players are at it again taking a knee when they should be standing proudly for the National Anthem,” the president tweeted. “Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their ‘outrage’ at something that most of them are unable to define.”

He said the NFL should fine players who disrespect the flag.

“A football game, that fans are paying soooo much money to watch and enjoy, is no place to protest,” the president tweeted. “Most of that money goes to the players anyway. Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!”

Some players have been protesting for two seasons over police brutality and racial injustice. Black players in particular have shunned Mr. Trump or accused him of racism.

Cameron Jordan, a defensive end for the New Orleans Saints, fired back Friday at Mr. Trump, calling him a “goober.”

“Guy who won the presidential election how about we get a statement on the ‘unite the right’ rally 2 being held in DC this weekend a yr after the first one in Charlottesville???” Jordan tweeted, referring to the anniversary of a deadly white nationalist rally in Virginia.

The player said of the president: “He is who I thought he was. Guy is 70+ yr old acting out in what was once the highest respected political position, as a overly insecure prepubescent child.”

The president himself has told others that he believes the national anthem issue is a positive one for him politically. He told Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones last fall that he wouldn’t stop criticizing the NFL until the league stopped the protests.

“This is a very winning, strong issue for me,” Mr. Trump said in a phone call, according to a deposition given by Mr. Jones and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.”

Polls have shown that Mr. Trump’s base agrees overwhelmingly with him on the issue, although there are large racial and partisan divides overall.

In a Quinnipiac University poll in June, Republican voters said by margin of 70 percent to 23 percent that players who kneel to protest police violence and social injustice are not patriots.

But when Democrats and independents were included, the majority of those polled (58 percent) said players could take a knee and still be patriotic (35 percent said the players were unpatriotic).

A HuffPost/YouGov poll in May found that most blacks (66 percent) and Democrats (62 percent) think that kneeling is appropriate. But 60 percent of white people and 87 percent of Republicans think it is inappropriate.

Black NFL players say they are calling attention to unfairness in the criminal justice system. Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles urged fans on Twitter to reflect on the country’s prison population and the NFL, both of which are populated by a large percentage of blacks.

“What you witness on the field does not represent the reality of everyday America,” Jenkins wrote. “We are the anomalies ”

Mr. Jenkins was part of the Eagles’ Super Bowl champion team that boycotted an appearance at the White House last spring, unhappy with the president’s policies and his feuds with black professional athletes.

The same day that Mr. Jenkins posted that commentary last week, Mr. Trump was holding a meeting with various state officials about prison reform, promoting an expansion of job training and education in prisons to allow more inmates to gain early release and get jobs.

In the meeting, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, said the state’s efforts to bring charter schools into prisons and give inmates more vocational training have reduced the black male incarceration by 30 percent since 2011, and cut the black female inmate population by 38.2 percent.

“That’s great,” Mr. Trump replied.

The president said he’s working with Senate Republicans to approve a House-passed bill on prison reform this year. And he said the strong economy is giving more felons an opportunity to turn their lives around.

“One of the single most important things we’re doing is to help former inmates in creating jobs,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re creating so many jobs that former inmates, for the first time, are really getting a shot at it Businesses are hiring and recruiting workers that were previously overlooked. It’s a great feeling.”

In tweets over the weekend, Mr. Trump said he is working to help all Americans regardless of race.

“I am proud to have fought for and secured the LOWEST African American and Hispanic unemployment rates in history,” he said. “Now I’m pushing for prison reform to give people who have paid their debt to society a second chance. I will never stop fighting for ALL Americans!

After Mr. Trump battled with the NFL for most of last season, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a new policy that required players to either stand at attention on the sideline during the national anthem or to stay in the locker room.

But the league suspended that policy after the players’ union objected, and both sides are negotiating.

The NFL said in a statement Friday, after another round of player protests, that it has been “engaged in constructive discussions with the NFL Players Association regarding the anthem and issues of equality and social justice that are of concern to many Americans.”

“While those discussions continue, the NFL has agreed to delay implementing or enforcing any club work rules that could result in players being disciplined for their conduct during the performance of the anthem,” the statement said. “Meanwhile, there has been no change in the NFL’s policy regarding the national anthem. The anthem will continue to be played before every game, and all player and non-player personnel on the field at that time are expected to stand during the presentation of the flag and performance of the anthem. Personnel who do not wish to do so can choose to remain in the locker room.”

Update hourly