Trump’s NFL com­ments will hope­fully back­fire

The Corkman - - SPORT - Damian Stack looks at some of the sto­ries mak­ing back­page news over the past seven days

“In life, there’s the be­gin­ning and the end. The be­gin­ning don’t mat­ter. The end don’t mat­ter. All that mat­ters is what you do in be­tween” – John Car­los

T

HE cur­rents of his­tory swirl around us con­stantly. Most of the time we’re barely cog­nisant of it. We think of our­selves as purely liv­ing in the here and now. It’s rarely ever true. Ev­ery so of­ten we’re pulled up short, pulled out of the story we tell our­selves and con­fronted with the cold hard-re­al­ity of life on this lit­tle blue dot float­ing free in the cos­mos.

One com­fort­ing story we tell our­selves is that of the in­evitabil­ity of progress. Bit-by-bit, inch by-inch, gen­er­a­tion-by-gen­er­a­tion we rise. We gain more rights, we gain more free­doms, and once we’ve gained them we don’t lose them again. If only it were true.

Upon Barack Obama’s elec­tion as US pres­i­dent many of us saw it as a ban­ner day for race re­la­tions in that coun­try. There was talk about a post-racial pres­i­dency. What’s hap­pened since then has shown the folly of any such as­sump­tions. As Wil­liam Falkner wrote, the past isn’t dead, it’s not even past.

The op­po­si­tion to Obama took on a racialised com­plex­ion al­most im­me­di­ately with the birtherism con­spir­acy the­ory – pushed by none other than the present of­fice holder, Don­ald Trump. It was an ob­vi­ous at­tempt to de-le­git­imise the first black pres­i­dent.

The treat­ment of peo­ple of colour by the po­lice, mean­while, prompted the birth of the black lives mat­ter move­ment. Far from mark­ing an end – and Obama never claimed his elec­tion was any­thing other than a step along the road – race re­la­tions seemed to be­come in­creas­ingly fraught in the United States.

On the night of the 2016 elec­tion CNN com­men­ta­tor Van Jones de­scribed Trump’s vic­tory as a white-lash, a white back-lash against the rise of peo­ple of colour in the States.

Trump’s dem­a­goguery and racism were and are an un­doubted part of his ap­peal and, with peo­ple like Steve Ban­non by his side, he’s cul­ti­vated that ever since. He called white su­prem­a­cist protesters in North Carolina “very fine peo­ple” and never misses an op­por­tu­nity to crit­i­cise peo­ple of colour who dare to crit­i­cise him.

He and his White House tar­geted an African Amer­i­can sports re­porter Jemele Hill and called for her sack­ing be­cause of her crit­i­cisms of Trump. Since then Trump has con­tin­ued to race-bait with a se­ries of com­ments and tweets against black foot­ballers who have ‘taken the knee’ dur­ing the play­ing of the Star Span­gled Ban­ner be­fore NFL games. Trump called them ‘sons of bitches’ for re­fus­ing to stand for the na­tional an­them. He called for them to be sacked. The man who val­ues his right to self-ex­pres­sion highly is so threat­ened by the ex­pres­sion of oth­ers not like him that he wants to shut them down. There’s noth­ing new about any of this – ei­ther in the ne­ces­sity to protest or the de­sire of those in power to keep their priv­i­leges for them­selves.

The op­po­si­tion peo­ple like Colin Kaeper­nick have faced would be more than fa­mil­iar to US Olympians Tom­mie Smith and John Car­los who found them­selves booted out of the Olympic vil­lage at the 1968 games fol­low­ing their fa­mous black-power salute on the win­ners’ podium. Smith and Car­los scar­i­fied for some­thing greater than them­selves (some­thing Trump couldn’t pos­si­bly con­ceive of do­ing). They were will­ing to suf­fer the con­se­quences. Kaeper­nick too has suf­fered, he’s with­out a club at the mo­ment.

For all that it’s de­press­ing that such protests need to be held, for all that it’s de­press­ing that Trump and peo­ple like him (two Nascar team own­ers made sim­i­lar re­marks) re­act they way they have, there’s hope that peo­ple are still will­ing to do the un­pop­u­lar thing.

Polling sug­gests that the NFL protests are much more widely dis­ap­proved of than ap­proved. When the en­tire Dal­las Cow­boys took a knee on Mon­day evening in sol­i­dar­ity with oth­ers who have, they were widely booed from the stands.

Even so it feels like this time Trump has over­played his hand. The crit­i­cisms of him by peo­ple like Steph Curry and LeBron James have stung. There was even a neg­a­tive re­ac­tion from within the world of Nascar to those own­ers’ com­ments. Dale Earn­hardt Ju­nior, whose stock-car cre­den­tials are im­pec­ca­ble, sided with the NFL play­ers. Those who were once re­viled – Car­los and Smith and many oth­ers be­fore them – later be­come rightly lauded for their courage and brav­ery. As Harry En­ten wrote on fivethir­tyeight: “The NFL protests may be un­pop­u­lar now, but that doesn’t mean they’ll end that way.” By be­hav­ing the way he has Trump is hope­fully ac- cel­er­at­ing the process. It would be typ­i­cal of the man’s in­com­pe­tence if his cack-handed at­tempt to drive a wedge be­tween peo­ple in­stead had the ef­fect of bring­ing them to­gether.

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