The Dallas Cowboys, led by owner Jerry Jones, center, take a knee prior to the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals. Sept, 25 2017.
( Associated Press
BOB GARFIELD: This is on the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I’m Brooke Gladstone. Last Friday, during an Alabama rally, as the President was stumping for GOP primary hopeful Luther Strange, who would lose, the President took a moment to reflect on a subject dear to his heart.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know, it has to be a see-through wall. If -- I don’t know if you know this. If you can’t have vision through it, you don’t know who’s on the other side.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Uh, no, not that, the NFL.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, get that sonofabitch off the field right now?
Out, he’s fired. He’s fired! ‘Cause that’s a total disrespect of our heritage, that’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for, okay? Everything that we stand for.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The rest, as they say, is history.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump versus the NFL, across the country the biggest plays happening before the game, a show of solidarity and defiance against the President.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Countless NFL players and owners have pushed back, as well as players from other sports. Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors said they would not come to the White House to have their NBA championship honored there. And even Lebron James weighed in, calling the President “a bum.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Trump, being Trump, doubled down.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump tweeted, quote, “Tremendous backlash against the NFL and its players for disrespect of our Country. #StandForOurAnthem”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And down.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: If you look at what’s happening with their ratings, you cannot have people disrespecting our national anthem, our flag, our country, and that’s what they’re doing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And down.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think they’re afraid of their players, if you want to know the truth, and I think it’s disgraceful.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It makes for the perfect Trump potpourri, spicy notes of culture war grievance, racist insinuations, appeals to patriotism and order and the ever-present obsession with ratings and profit margins, a rich mix, balanced by the quixotic efforts of White House Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders to obscure the obvious.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, this isn’t about the President being against anyone but this is about the President and millions of Americans being for something, being for honoring our flag, honoring our national anthem and honoring the men and women who fought to defend it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: A point echoed by Vice President Mike Pence.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Now, folks, we’ve all got a right to our opinions but I don’t think it’s too much to ask the players in the National Football League to stand for our national anthem!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And naturally, by action star Steven Seagal. STEVEN SEAGAL: I think it's outrageous. I think it's a joke. It's disgusting.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Obviously, the players weren't kneeling to protest a banner but to protest racial injustice. A San Francisco 49ers player, Eric Reid, wrote this week in The New York Times he kneels out of respect for the values the flag is meant to represent. The President and his mouthpieces seem unable to grasp that distinction. They fail to see, as S. I. Hayakawa put it, the symbol is not the thing symbolized, the word is not the thing; the map is not the territory it stands for. Instead, that confusion spiraled into absurdity.
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TUCKER CARLSON/FOX NEWS: What would the reaction be from all the wise people on television if players were protesting the Mexican flag?
VINCENT BONACASA/GOLD STAR PARENT: When North Korea aims a missile at us, are these football players gonna be on their knees? Or are they gonna support our veterans?
SEAN HANNITY: You know, there's a reason the NFL, some people call it the "No Fun League." Take a look at these examples: Celebrations banned, including twerking and shooting a bow and arrow in the end zone. Is that a violation of free speech?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Twerking, Hannity? So, here’s the thing: When it comes to someone else’s speech you don't have to like it but, assuming they act within the law, you do have to live with it. It’s a right that predates Trump, predates the national anthem, predates even the flag they’re kneeling before.