In a few moments, Donald Trump turned NFL Week 3 into “must-see TV.” His comments condemning players who take a knee during the National Anthem were met with a swift and resounding response across the sports spectrum, with LeBron James saying it’s not something he can stand for. The MLB even joined in, with Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland A’s becoming the first baseball player to take a knee on Saturday. But there was still a question of what would happen Sunday once the National Anthem played in football stadiums throughout the country. The answer was clear and open defiance.
Trump drew the proverbial line in the sand, calling for team owners to “get that son of a bitch off of the field right now. Out! He’s fired, he’s fired!” On Sunday, players, coaches, and owners across the league walked up to that line and stepped right over it, challenging the very fiber of the president’s words.
Week 3 saw more players than ever before join in the protest, taking a knee during the anthem or standing with linked arms—and most of the Oakland Raiders sat down entirely. After the same game, Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman called Trump's remarks "disrespectful" and even said the country was facing tyranny under his leadership.
But this time, it wasn’t just players; team owners including Arthur Blank of the Atlanta Falcons, Dan Snyder of the Redskins, and Shahid Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars also stood arm in arm with players on the sideline. The Pittsburgh Steelers went as far as to remain in the locker room during the anthem, save one player, former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva, who took to the field by himself. The world was watching and the message was clear that a large portion of those involved with the NFL do not agree with the Commander in Chief.
What started last season as a silent protest by currently unsigned quarterback Colin Kaepernick slowly became a weekly occurrence on game day, but there was something different about the responses put forth on September 24. The movement had been largely, but not solely, taken up by a sparing number of black athletes. People were waiting with bated breath for other athletes to join in and amplify the cause—especially the more high-profile white players who are faces of their respective franchises. This week, in light of Trump’s divisive comments, they rose to the occasion and aimed to send a message of inclusion. Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs knelt on the sideline, in one example. Tom Brady, a friend of Trump’s, linked arms with teammates, and even Aaron Rodgers did the same.
That could not have been the response that President Trump hoped for. He continued his attack on Twitter, saying, “Sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their National Anthem or their Country.” It’s beyond ironic to think this is the same man who chastised former President Barack Obama for commenting on the controversy regarding the Washington Redskins' name back in 2013.
Trump seems to have finally struck a chord that prompted widespread response across the NFL—as well as the NBA. But Sunday cannot be the end of the conversation. Trump’s statements spat in the face of a peaceful protest meant to draw attention to police brutality and other struggles within minority communities in the country he’s supposed to represent. Kaepernick remains unsigned when it’s clear there are teams that can use his abilities, an issue that even rapper J. Cole said should be investigated. An owner signing him in the face of negative backlash would be an ultimate act of defiance to Trump's divisive statements. However, September 24 should be recognized as a day when players were widely unified for a purpose beyond getting the win.