Commentary: Trump called NFL players who kneeled in protest “SOB's.” His intent was racist. The players are largely black, the kneelers were almost wholly black, and Trump was speaking to a mostly-white Alabama crowd deciding between the right-wing senator Trump supports and the even more right-wing and racist challenger. The subtext was, “My guy's as tough on n****rs as your guy.”
Meanwhile, his preemptive strike against basketball's championship team, canceling the traditional White House visit because they were likely not to accept, was just Trump being thin-skinned; but he singled out Steph Curry, not coach Steve Kerr, who's white. Steph is a truly All-American good kid, except that he's what US folks call “black.” (When will skin color truly cease to matter in our assessment of fellow humans?)
Trump insults insults peaceful black protesters, but won't unambiguously criticize pro-violence anti-Semitic white supremacists., even when they inspire a killing.
If you were a football player, and Trump was calling your teammates names in a racist context, I think comradeship and self-respect alone would tempt you to join in a statement of opposition, even one involving the flag – unless you're Villanueva, who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan. He has deeper ties to other comrades, or their memories, and should not apologize for saluting the flag while his teammates stayed inside to avoid the issue.
One thing I learned from all this was that Francis Scott Key was a racist, and the third stanza of his poem “Defending Fort McHenry,” which became “The Star-Spangled Banner”, attacked a group called Colonial Marines, escaped black slaves who fought with the British as a route toward freedom. Can't blame 'em. Key could, though:
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave...
They could fight, though, and just weeks earlier had kicked the butts of Americans under Key's command.
What's harder to define is Key's racism. He certainly didn't believe in whites and blacks hanging out together, and he owned slaves, though he opposed violent treatment of slaves and later freed some. He did so many appalling things to defend slavery and so many humanitarian things to free slaves it's hard to keep track. He was vilified as both an abolitionist and a virulent anti-abolitionist. (I discuss that further on my blog today.)
He was, like most of us, a person in a specific time and with a specific background, who did the best he could by his lights, and grew somewhat wiser with time. He was neither as wonderful as he likely thought he was, nor as terrible as later generations might infer, once white society learned certain things.
Players have no First Amendment right as against private employers; and some of these players make phenomenal salaries to be modern-day gladiators, before most end up with knees too infirm to descend stairs, shoulders too painful to lift their children, or permanent confusion, But so what?
Trump, a powerful public official, is exacerbating our divisions for selfish political reasons. Bringing out the worst in us. Whether someone stands during the national anthem, kneels, puts a hand on his heart, or whatever, is irrelevant to either their athletic prowess or the cogency of their political arguments. We're all in this together. In a country built on freedom to protest, patriots can protest Trump's conduct.