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Dick’s Sporting Goods: September 2017

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Football players stand during the national anthem before a game.

Football players stand during the national anthem before a game.

Football players stand during the national anthem before a game.

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The world of sports became frenzied this past Saturday.  It was not due to the long-awaited Carmelo Anthony trade, a crazy day in college football, or the postseason chase in baseball.  Instead, the situation resulting in many professional athletes speaking out was caused as most crazy situations this past year have been — by a tweet from Donald Trump.

Late Friday night, Trump was at a political rally in Huntsville, Alabama when he unleashed an unprovoked attack against Colin Kaepernick and other football players for kneeling during the national anthem.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners,” he asked, “when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b**** off the field right now, out. He’s fired.’”

His comments immediately became controversial, but Trump’s tweets Saturday made matters worse.

Trump first rescinded an invitation to NBA champion Golden State Warriors to celebrate at the White House because point guard Stephen Curry publicly expressed doubts over whether he should attend the ceremony.

Trump went on to defend his comments in Alabama and told NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, “tell them to stand!”

Players and owners did not shy away from responding to Trump. LeBron James called Trump a “bum” in a tweet, and Martellus Bennett tweeted, “I’m OK being fired for what I believe in.”

These players were not the only sports figures to respond to Trump.  Goodell condemned Trump’s comments in a nationally released statement, and many NFL owners followed suit.

Whether or not you believe it is right to kneel during the national anthem, it is important to acknowledge the divisive actions of our nation’s leader.  While tensions rise with North Korea, the country recovers from devastating hurricanes, and the Republican Party attempts another effort to repeal Obamacare, the president is deciding to use the bully pulpit to attack black athletes and to continue dividing the nation.

Trump had no problem denouncing the actions of Kaepernick and Curry, yet he failed to condemn the white supremacists in Charlottesville.  Somehow, those in Charlottesville were “very fine people,” and these NFL players are “sons of b*****s.”

If one thing became clear this weekend, it was that protesting athletes will not be quieted by Trump. When Kaepernick began his protest in August last year, media critics complained his actions were outside his area of expertise and therefore improper.  NFL ratings decreased last year, and a study by Rasmussen Reports revealed the downward trend was due to the controversial kneeling.  Despite Trump’s accusation that the athletes are unpatriotic and the threat of job loss, players remain committed to raising awareness about important issues.

To say Kaepernick is an athlete and nothing more ignores his background as well as decades of sports history.  Athletes like Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens used their platform to create positive change, and today’s athletes must continue to do so.  It’s not an easy road in a country claiming to value free speech, but failing to respect the right of athletes to speak out about issues continuing to separate people.

Trump had no problem denouncing the actions of Kaepernick and Curry, yet he failed to condemn the white supremacists in Charlottesville.  Somehow, those in Charlottesville were ‘very fine people,’ and these NFL players are ‘sons of b*****s.’”

Trump’s actions have already produced results he likely did not anticipate.  Instead of NFL owners removing players who kneel from the field, most NFL owners immediately criticized Trump and respected their players’ constitutional rights.

Social media users started #taketheknee, encouraging more NFL players to kneel during the national anthem.

On Saturday, Oakland Athletics player Bruce Maxwell became the first baseball player to kneel during the anthem.  Hundreds of football players knelt and locked arms on Sunday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, and the Seattle Seahawks all remained in the locker room during the anthem.

At the professional level, athletes have been highly vocal about their opinions, and I wondered how college and high school athletes, including those at OPRF, felt about kneeling during the national anthem and Trump’s response.

Head football coach John Hoerster said he had not talked to his team about Colin Kaepernick’s situation, but said he would sign Kaepernick.  “I don’t see anything that Kaepernick has done that would warrant avoiding him as a football player,” Hoerster said.  “It’s strange to me that owners would turn their back on someone who could help their program, which I think Kaepernick could do.

“I think his message was a timely one that made an impact in a lot of different positive ways.  He’s getting treated quite unfairly for what he’s standing up for.”

Hoerster also said he would support a player who knelt if he did it for the right reasons.  “If the player had well thought-out reasoning, strong convictions, and knew what they were doing and why, I would 100 percent respect that player’s decision and support that player the best that I could.”

Will Trump’s words encourage OPRF athletes to take a knee?  Some members of the OPRF girls’ swim team planned to kneel during the anthem at a meet yesterday.  The football team, and players across all sports at OPRF should make a statement about inequality, police brutality, and racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem.

It is heartening that professional athletes have used this opportunity to become positive role models again, and high school players should follow in their footsteps and use their platform to help solve crucial problems facing the country.

On Saturday, LeBron James best summarized the role of sports in this crucial time: “We all know how much sports bring us together… and for him (Trump) to try to use this platform to try to divide us even more is not something I can stand for, and it’s not something I can be quiet about.”

Trump has ignored the more concerning issues with sports, such as the high number of arrests of athletes and safety concerns in sports like football.

In focusing on the players’ nonviolent protests, Trump and other opponents misunderstand the protest’s purpose.  It is not about disrespecting the American flag or the military; it is about creating positive change, and it can occur at the local level as well, if OPRF athletes kneel.  When people will look back on these protests, they will see  the athletes who took a knee were on the right side of history.

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The student newspaper of Oak Park and River Forest High School
Dick’s Sporting Goods: September 2017