If President Donald Trump wanted to re-energize protesters throughout the sports world, he certainly found a way to do it over the weekend.
Trump said during a political rally in Alabama Friday: “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!’”
No NFL player got fired for a protest over the weekend, but hundreds of NFL players either knelt, stood arm-in-arm or else did not come out of the locker room for the national anthem at all.
Julius Peppers was in the latter group. The 37-year-old star defensive end was the only Panthers player to publicly protest, staying in the locker room while the rest of the Carolina players stood at attention while the national anthem was sung at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday. What Peppers did Sunday took some courage. He was obviously going against his own head coach’s wishes of total team unity during the anthem (although coach Ron Rivera said Monday he thought Peppers took a good approach to the protest).
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Peppers is both a natural introvert and a people-pleaser in regard to his coaches and teammates, so this act pulled him way out of his personal comfort zone. It also was likely not met with a round of applause from Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who appears to be very much a member of the #StickToSports crowd.
Richardson, after more than 48 hours of silence about this subject while almost every other NFL team issued some sort of statement about Trump’s NFL-related comments on Sunday, provided his own statement Monday afternoon. It read:
“We are proud of the men we have on this football team. Our players have been active and impactful participants in making our community stronger. From the first time I stepped into an NFL locker room at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore in 1959, I have lived and seen the sport’s ability to bring people of all backgrounds together. Politicizing the game is damaging and takes the focus off the greatness of the game itself and those who play it.”
Dale Jr. chimes in
Peppers obviously was “politicizing the game” on Sunday, although Richardson did not mention him by name. Peppers said later he wasn’t trying to hurt or disrespect anyone, but that he felt moved to publicly condemn Trump’s remarks.
Colin Kaepernick also politicized the NFL last year, of course. And so did President Trump Friday night in Alabama and with a series of sports-related tweets before and since.
On Monday, Trump publicly praised NASCAR. Some of its biggest names – including Richard Childress and Richard Petty – had said over the weekend they would fire any employee who took a knee during the national anthem.
That, in turn, prompted Dale Earnhardt Jr’s tweet in which he wrote that all Americans are granted the right to a peaceful protest. Earnhardt also quoted John F. Kennedy, who once said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
And on and on it went. The subject has swirled around the sports world all weekend. Tom Brady said on a radio show that Trump’s comments were “divisive.” Hornets owner Michael Jordan issued a statement to The Observer about it, which read: “One of the fundamental rights this country is founded on was freedom of speech, and we have a long tradition of nonviolent, peaceful protest. Those who exercise the right to peacefully express themselves should not be demonized or ostracized.
“At a time of increasing divisiveness and hate in this country, we should be looking for ways to work together and support each other and not create more division. I support Commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA, its players and all those who wish to exercise their right to free speech.”
Howard wants to forgive, love Trump
The subject dominated parts of the Charlotte Hornets’ Media Day on Monday, too. New Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard said of America in general: “I think the only time we really come together is when a disaster happens or somebody dies and there’s a big event. I think we should change that to where we show each other love every day.”
Howard also said he didn’t want to say anything negative about Trump. “I know the president has said a lot of things that people don’t like,” Howard said. “He’s done a lot of things. But for myself, the only thing I can do is forgive him and love him throughout the process.”
As for me, I have been heartened by both the protests and the shows of unity throughout the sports world. They have been peaceful and thoughtful. They have shown that athletes don’t just think of the next first down or the next dunk. They are part of our larger community.
I thought what Peppers said Sunday about his own protest was eloquent – and worth remembering the next time you or I believe it’s time to take a public stand for something.
“I know a lot of people might not understand it,” Peppers said. “A lot of people might be upset about it, and that’s fine. I’m not living my life out there trying to make everybody happy. I’m doing things that I feel like are right and things that I believe in.
“There are only a few times in a man’s life where you have the chance to stand up for something that you believe in and make a statement. Today I thought was that chance, so I took it.”