Tom Brady, Other Former Trump Supporters Find President 'Divisive'
The Donald Trump rally was to endorse Republican Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama on Friday night, but the news coming out of it and dominating the weekend cycle had nothing to do with the election. “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!’ ” Trump bellowed in a digression, referring to Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who in opposition to police brutality started the “Take a Knee” protest last season during the playing of the national anthem.
Trump’s condemnation drew applause among the MAGA-faithful, but the NFL had a different reaction. New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady and longtime friend of Trump had this to say:
Yeah, I certainly disagree with what he said. I thought it was just divisive. Like I said, I just want to support my teammates. I am never one to say, “Oh, that is wrong. That is right.” I do believe in what I believe in. I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust. Those are the values that my parents instilled in me. That is how I try and live every day. I have been blessed to be in locker rooms with guys all over the United States over the course of my career. Some of my great friends are from Florida, Virginia, New York, Montana, Colorado, Texas. The one thing about football is it brings so many guys together—guys you would never have the opportunity to be around. Whether it was in college, and all the way into the pros. We’re all different, we’re all unique. That is what makes us all special.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration and calls himself a friend of the president’s, released the following statement:
I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday. I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger. There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.
Former NFL coach and current ESPN broadcaster Rex Ryan has also been a prominent Trump supporter, but now he sounds as if he might be an ex-supporter. The former coach of the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills said on ESPN:
I’m pissed off, I’ll be honest with you, because I supported Donald Trump. I sat back—when he asked me to introduce him at a rally in Buffalo, I did that. But I am reading these comments, and it is appalling to me. And I am sure it’s appalling to almost any citizen in our country. It should be. I mean, calling our players SOBs and all that kind of stuff, that is not the men that I know. The men that I know in the locker room, I am proud of, I’m proud to be associated with those people.
I apologize for being pissed off but, guess what, that’s it. Right away, I am associated with what Donald Trump stands for and all that because I introduced him. I never signed up for that. I never wanted that. That doesn’t mean I support 100 percent of the things he does, and clearly this is the case.
Reaction was immediate across the NFL on Sunday among hundreds of players who took a knee or locked arms in solidarity with Kaepernick, who no longer plays in the league. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement on Sunday morning:
The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.
Trump responded on Twitter, calling for a boycott of the NFL. Ratings show viewership is off, and according to a poll by J.D. Power, the Take a Knee protest is the No. 1 reason. Polls from 2016 show most Americans disagreed with Kaepernick, but according to Sports Illustrated, last year the NFL made $13 billion anyway.
Many see racist tendencies in Trump’s assessment of fascists in Charlottesville, Va., as “some very fine people,” when compared with Kaepernick, whom he called a “son of a bitch” for his civil rights protest. The president countered the charges on CNN on Sunday, saying:
I think it’s very disrespectful to our country. I think it’s very, very disrespectful to our flag. … We have a great country, we have a great people representing our country, especially our soldiers, our first responders, and they should be treated with respect. And when you get on your knee, and you don’t respect the American flag or the anthem, that’s not being treated with respect.
This has nothing to do with race. I’ve never said anything about race. This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.
Defending the president’s stance at White House press briefing earlier on Monday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders rejected the notion that her boss went too far in his comments. The Daily Beast noted:
At one point, Sanders even suggested that players who want to demonstrate against police brutality “should probably protest the officers on the field that are protecting them instead of the American flag.” When another reporter asked her if she was really advocating that players protest officers, Sanders clarified that she was merely “pointing out the hypocrisy” of players who would “disrespect” the American flag when they claim to be protesting police brutality against black Americans. “I’m not sure how those two things would be combined,” she said.
Don’t expect the story to die down any time soon. On Sunday, Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first baseball player to take a knee, later tweeting: “Inequality is being displayed bigger than ever right now as our president shows that freedom of protest and speech is not allowed.”