Advisers and aides were quick to come to President Trump’s defense after he on Friday night criticized National Football League players who protest during the national anthem, saying at a political rally in Huntsville, Ala.: “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!’

Time reports:

“I think what the president is saying is that the owners should have a rule that players should have to stand in respect for the national anthem,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “This isn’t about Democrats, it’s not about Republicans, it’s not about race, it’s not about free speech.”

He continued, “They can do free speech on their own time.”

Marc Short, director of the White House’s Legislative Affairs, said Trump’s stance was the same as the “vast majority” of Americans, who he said believe that kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful. “The president believes it is his role to improve race relations,” Short said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Short defended Trump’s tweets and denied that he has “re-opened … racial wounds” with them. The Daily Beast continues:

Within the Trump White House, senior aides and staff quickly formulated a clear path forward on the spin—that the American people, or at least the majority of them, agree wholeheartedly with the president about respecting the flag, first responders, and the U.S. military. Whatever the merits of the specific arguments on police brutality or freedom of speech, this is a “culture war”-type skirmish that could slightly aid President Trump, or at least not hurt him, according to White House officials speaking to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely.

One senior official noted that though some of the president’s outbursts on the issue have seemed “nutty,” this kind of public behavior and feuding on the president’s part are all but expected and “standard.” Another official simply observed that @realDonaldTrump’s NFL-related tantrums were less likely to cause an international incident than tweets about Kim Jong Un.

Trump on Saturday morning used his Twitter account to tell Warriors star player Stephen Curry he wasn’t welcome to visit the White House, writing: “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” The head coach of the team, Steve Kerr, commented in an interview with CNN that “in normal times, we would be very easily able to set aside political differences and go visit, have a great time, and that’d be awesome. But these are not ordinary times. Probably the most divisive times in my life.”

He added that “the idea of civil discourse with a guy who is tweeting and demeaning people and saying the things he’s saying is sort of far-fetched. Can you picture us really having a civil discourse with him?”

He continued, “How about the irony of, ‘Free speech is fine if you’re a neo-Nazi chanting hate slogans, but free speech is not allowed to kneel in protest?’ No matter how many times a football player says, ‘I honor our military, but I’m protesting police brutality and racial inequality,’ it doesn’t matter. Nationalists are saying, ‘You’re disrespecting our flag.’ Well, you know what else is disrespectful to our flag? Racism. And one’s way worse than the other.”

Another Time article contextualizes the debate:

But while a year ago, it was the act of kneeling in protest [against] police treatment of African Americans that captured the most attention, in 2017, it appears to be Trump’s unconventional response to the act. Since Friday, the Commander in Chief has called for NFL fans to walk out of games if they saw a player kneel, and added on Twitter that the NFL should fire or suspend players who take a knee.

The article also contrasted Trump’s volatile reaction with Obama’s diplomatic one:

Obama did not call for the NFL to fire or suspend any of its players for the incident. Instead, he encouraged onlookers to think about why Kaepernick was taking action.

“I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing. But I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot,” Obama said.

CNN reports that an NFL front office source said, “What you just saw was a variety of responses with the theme of unity. All across the league, owners, coaches and players came together to decide what was best for them. If Trump thought he could divide the NFL, he was wrong.”


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