Trump’s comments on NFL players’ protests ignite new race debate in U.S.

World Today

Several New England Patriots players kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Sixty years ago, U.S. National Guard troops in the state of Arkansas escorted black students into all white Central High School in Little Rock.  

Today, the U.S. is still wrestling with issues of race. Last weekend, issues of race played out in football stadiums across the U.S. 

CGTN’s Jim Spellman reports.

It began in 2016 when an NFL quarterback knelt as the U.S. national anthem was played to protest the treatment of African Americans by police. A handful of other players followed suit. Late last week President Donald Trump weighed in.

“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’,” Trump told a crowd of supporters at a rally in Alabama. “‘Out! He is fired! He is fired!'”

And once again race has sprung to the forefront of American politics. During Sunday’s football games many players knelt or locked arms, a message to the president and a show of unity.Fans are split over kneeling during the anthem.

“If they keep this up, I’ll stop coming to the games,” said one fan. But others disagreed.

“They did it peacefully so, you know, not everybody is going agree with it but this is America,” said another.

Many fans spoke out against the President.

“What I heard from our President on Friday was divisive and it wasn’t a message of unity,”said a fan at a one NFL game.  “The president he has bigger things, bigger fish to fry, he needs to handle his worldly affairs and let us handle this as fans and as owners and as players.”

The controversy spread through other sports over the weekend. Nearly all NASCAR drivers and most fans are white. Several team owners now say they will fire drivers who protest the anthem. Trump praised the move.

While in the predominately black NBA, Steph Curry of reigning champions, the Golden State Warriors, said he would decline an invitation to visit the White House to protest Trump’s actions, leading Trump to disinvite the team and criticize Curry on twitter. But Trump insists the protests are not about race.

“This has nothing to do with race or anything else,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.”

Even as the U.S. struggles again with race, some see an opportunity to use the unifying nature of sports to help bring the country together,.

“It’s not going away, but listening, understanding the other persons point of view and trying to work together to go forward, that is what we need,” said former NFL coach Tony Dungy.

Recent polling before the football controversy suggests three quarters of Americans think race relations in the US are poor and only a quarter approve of the way President Trump is handling the issue.