On Friday night, President Donald Trump appeared at a rally for Alabama Senator Luther Strange. The rally was bound to grab the attention of politicos and Senate junkies, not only because Trump would be speaking, but because his presence turns up the drama of an already-close run-off race that is dividing the Republican Party. Though Trump supports Strange, many other high-profile Republicans, including Steve Bannon, are pushing hard for Roy Moore.
However, the Moore vs. Strange run-off implications are likely to be eclipsed by the president’s harsh, provocative, and Apprentice-esque words about NFL players who protest during the national anthem.
Trump wishes NFL owners would tell anthem protesters "get that son of a bitch off the field right now" pic.twitter.com/gq4EH3lNoY— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) September 23, 2017
You can read his full commentary on the topic here. He went on to say that the protesting players are hurting the game, and BuzzFeed reports that he was referencing Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem—a decision some believe has prevented any team from signing him since he parted with the San Francisco 49ers. He then encouraged fans in stadiums to counterprotest the protests by walking out of games.
Notably, Trump repeated “He’s fired!,” multiple times during the NFL-focused portion of his rally remarks—not too far from his famous “You’re fired!” catchphrase. He also noted the falling TV ratings this season. Even though Kaepernick’s protest has provoked dialogue about the role of athletes as civil rights protesters and political figures, as well as resurfacing the conversation about racism in sports with a new urgency, Trump framed his objections to on-field protests in terms of TV only.
Based on his comments in Alabama, Trump seems to view the NFL players’ protests only through a prism of reality TV entertainment. Given his background with The Apprentice and frequent reference of ratings as a candidate and in office, it’s hardly surprising. But it’s still jarring for this view to be spoken plainly. And by framing the protests this way, the value of civil and lawful protest is completely obfuscated by focusing only on the theatrics of firing an employee. The line between professional sports and reality TV can get muddied when contract signings, coach firings, and off-field activities are as scrutinized as the actual games. But the ongoing discussion about protest within an NFL game has nudged the sport away from the entertainment sphere — but not to Trump.