The Blacklist

Taking a knee: NFL as a platform for race politics


A Collision Course: President Donald Trump vs. Stars of the NBA and the NFL
The Blacklist
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The biggest stars in professional football and basketball (the NFL and the NBA) are on a collision course with the President of the United States Donald Trump.

  • Players refuse to stand for the national anthem: NFL players have irked President Donald Trump by refusing to stand during the pregame national anthem as a sign of protest against what they see as systemic racism and police brutality against African Americans.
  • Players refuse invitation to the White house: Stephen Curry, the reigning NBA champion and one of the biggest stars in the world of sports, provoked the President by saying he would vote against visiting the Trump White House during a press conference. After the displeased President publicly rescinded the White House visit for the NBA Champions, another NBA megastar LeBron James stood up for Curry on Twitter and leveled strong criticism against the President.

The NFL and the United States National Anthem Demonstrations

  • The protests began in the NFL after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem before his team’s games, as opposed to the tradition of standing, to protest police brutality against African Americans.
    • At a time when police violence against unarmed African Americans was making headlines, Kaepernick has refused to stand during the anthems, saying in an interview “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
  • In his speech at a rally in Alabama nearly a year later, Donald Trump strongly denounced the players who protest the anthem. He quipped, “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!’” His words not only riled football players, but also set off a firestorm of demonstrations across the country.
  • Players and team owners alike reacted by doubling down. Just after Trump’s controversial speech and 3 weeks into the NFL season, more than 250 players sat and knelt during the anthem in protest. Players of three major teams – the Pittsburg Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, and Tennessee Titans – remained inside the locker room during the anthem. Taking the demonstrations to a new level, the owner, the entire coaching staff, and executives of the popular Dallas Cowboys locked arms and took a knee alongside the players in solidarity.
  • President Trump responded with a series of scathing tweets. But Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers urged fans during an interview to stand in support of the protests, further solidifying the divide between NFL and the President. Sports fans all over rallied in support, showing solidarity in demonstrations and social media with #TakeAKnee.

Conflict between two NBA megastars and President Trump leads to the fallout of the White House visit for the NBA Champions

  • Stephen Curry is the leader of the reigning NBA team Golden State Warriors (shortened “Warriors” below) and undoubtedly one of the most influential athletes in the world. When he was asked about the traditional White House visit for the NBA Champions, Curry expressed that he would “vote against the Warriors visiting the Trump White House.” His comments were unsurprising as he has always been critical of the Trump presidency.
  • In September, following Curry’s comments, Trump took to Twitter and announced that he is publicly rescinding the White House visit invitation for the Golden State Warriors. His tweet reads: “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore the invitation is withdrawn!”
  • NBA Superstar LeBron James also chimed in, tweeting “Stephen Curry already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!” James, like Curry, has not been quiet about his anti-Trump stance and was a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton during the campaign season.
  • Since the incident, NBA players have also been refusing to stand during the national anthem in their pre-season games, showing support for the NFL players.

As we can see, the President of the United States has antagonized the biggest players of the NBA and the NFL. Reminiscent of his days as the star of the hit show “Apprentice”, Trump announced that players who do not stand during the national anthem should all be fired.

  • Trump then went after the NFL and its team owners. To the NFL, he urged the need for new rules which penalize players who go against the government. The President then went on to say that he “think(s) the owners are afraid of their players.” “The ratings are going way down…the stadiums, there are a lot of empty seats”. He implied that this is a manifestation of the Americans’ support for him.
  • However, the owners have sided with their players. It seems Trump’s appeals have only backfired as the owners and front office executives are instead supporting their players and defending their rights to the freedom of speech.

Although there are cases to be made on both sides in this public debate, one can safely say that most of the public have sided with the athletes and teams. Outlined below are the arguments for and against the national anthem protests.

  • Arguments against: There is no place for politics on the field, thus the players must check their opinions at the door before coming into the game. Players must be considerate of the diverse range of political views among spectating crowd. Sports organizations and teams should be politically agnostic and should not disrespect the political views of the spectators (whatever their views may be). Surely, players have the right to express themselves privately, but there is no place for political activism on the football field (or any other sports arena, for that matter).
  • Arguments for: The players have a right to freedom of speech, protected by the first amendment. Politically outspoken artists have been protected by the First Amendment. By the same token, athletes should be able to exercise freedom of speech both on and off the field. And it could be further argued that in times of abuse of power or social injustice, star players have the power to act as effective role models and become a force for positive change.
  • General public: More than 80% of the general public believe that the US national anthem demonstrations are justified. Many by and large believe that the demonstration is a peaceful way to protest the social injustices of “Excessive use of force against African Americans by police” and “government attempts to stamp down on the right to freedom of speech.”

For the Korean public, these controversies bring to mind a very recent and similar incident that rocked the entire nation.

  • The Korean entertainment industry has been a victim of state sponsored censorship and “blacklisting,” a form of abuse of power. During the past 10 years, the ruling conservative party maintained and systematically managed a blacklist that included filmmakers, celebrities, actors, producers and the like who the party deemed to be anti-government. Those on the list were constant targets of surveillance, penalties, and various disadvantages to their careers.
  • Famous actor Kang Ho Song is one of the most famous victims of the incident. After his performance in the leading role of the film “The Attorney,” (a fact-based drama and a portrait of the former President and progressive icon Mu Hyun Roh) Kang was blacklisted and was not cast into any roles for three to four years.
  • He opened up about this in a public interview saying that “the fear of antagonizing the government interferes with your ability to make artistic decisions and stay true to your profession as an artist. The first thing I ever felt when I received the script for the movie Taxi Driver was that fear. This is why the blacklist is so vicious – it makes artists like myself, who should have artistic freedoms, into puppets of those in power.”
  • The list also included athletes, the most prominent among them Yuna Kim (Olympic gold medalist in figure skating) and Taewhan Park (Olympic gold medalist in swimming). Specifically, Park and Kim were put at a disadvantage for not actively attending in government sponsored events.

What is your opinion on star athletes and celebrities publicly speaking out on social and political issues?
How do you think governments should respond to politically outspoken stars, if at all?
Where do you stand on the issues between President Donald Trump and professional football players?
How do you feel about the Korean “blacklist” controversy?

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