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Explainer: How the Trump-NFL showdown began and how the sports world is responding

EXPLAINER

How the Trump-NFL showdown began, and how the sports world is responding

Scores of NFL players on Sunday took a knee or locked arms after U.S. President Donald Trump's comments at a political rally on Friday. Here's a look at what Trump said and how the fallout in the sports unfolded

The latest

  • On Monday, Trump tweeted yet again about his position on kneeling during the national anthem, saying, among other things: “The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!” Read the latest here.
  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has called Trump “a good friend” in the past, told Boston’s WEEI-FM Monday that he “certainly” disagrees with the President’s “divisive” comments. See more here.
  • Canadian hockey player Sidney Crosby, who plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins, said on Monday that he supports his team’s decision to accept the White House’s invitation for a team visit. “It’s a great honour for us to be invited there,” he said on Monday. Read more about the NHL’s reaction here.
  • In the NBA, Toronto Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri said “there’s nobody getting fired” for speaking their minds. Read more here.



Trump's comments

Mr. Trump was in Alabama on Friday night for a political rally in support of Alabama Senator Luther Strange, who is in the midst of a Republican Primary for the 2018 midterm elections. During the event, Mr. Trump veered off of endorsing Mr. Strange and instead went after professional athletes.

Several NFL players, starting last season with then-San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have either knelt, sat or raised fists during the anthem to protest police treatment of blacks and social injustice. Last week at NFL games, four players sat or knelt during the anthem, and two raised fists while others stood by the protesters in support. Other players have protested in different ways over the past season since Kaepernick began sitting during the 2016 preseason.

"That's a total disrespect of everything that we stand for," Trump said, encouraging owners to act. He added, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you'd say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired."

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In response, hundreds of athletes, team employees and owners responded in solidarity by either kneeling or locking arms during the national anthem.

On Saturday, he turned his attention to basketball, announcing that Stephen Curry, the immensely popular two-time MVP for the Golden State Warriors, would not be welcome at the White House for the commemorative visit traditionally made by championship teams. Basketball players in both the NBA and WNBA stood in solidarity with Curry and the Warriors.

watch Trump: Fire NFL players who kneel during national anthem


NFL

Mr. Trump's comments about owners firing players who kneel during the national anthem sparked a mass increase in such protests around the NFL Sunday, as more than 130 players sat, knelt or raised their fists in defiance during early games. A week ago, just four players didn't stand and two raised their fists. Hours before kickoff on Sunday, Mr. Trump called on fans to boycott teams that do not discipline players who protest.

In the first few games since Trump stepped up his criticism of NFL players, dozens of players and coaches of teams including the Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins did not stand for the anthem and took a knee, a gesture that began last year as a protest over police treatment of African-Americans and other minorities.

watch NFL players defiant after Trump’s boycott remarks

The Pittsburgh Steelers waited off the field during the national anthem before their game against the Chicago Bears in Chicago to avoid "playing politics" in divisive times, coach Mike Tomlin said.

In Detroit, several members of the Lions knelt while singer Rico Lavelle dropped to one knee and pumped a fist in the air at the end of his performance of the national anthem.

And in Philadelphia, city police officers joined with Eagles and rival New York Giants players and Eagles team owner Jeffrey Lurie to link arms during the anthem in a sign of solidarity.

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Jets Chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson, whose brother, Woody, is the ambassador to England and one of Trump's most ardent supporters, called it "an honour and a privilege to stand arm-in-arm unified with our players during today's national anthem" in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

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NBA

On Saturday morning, the day after his rally in Alabama, Mr. Trump tweeted that he was rescinding his invitation to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors because superstar point guard Stephen Curry was "hesitating."

On Friday, before Mr. Trump's tweet, the two-time league MVP said he wouldn't be visiting the White House. His teammate and Finals MVP Kevin Durant had said earlier in the summer that he wouldn't be visiting the White House either.

In a statement released on Saturday the Warriors said that they accept that they are no longer invited. They said that instead of visiting the White House when they are in Washington D.C. in February they'll use their trip to "celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion."

Many prominent current and former NBA players stood in solidarity with Curry. Superstar LeBron James, who did not refer to Mr. Trump by name, called him "a bum" and said that going to the White House as a champion used to be "a great honor." Kobe Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, said that Mr. Trump wouldn't be able to "Make America Great Again," an ode to the president's campaign slogan.

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In Toronto, Raptors president Masai Ujiri says he is fine with his players speaking their mind, saying "there's nobody getting fired here" for standing up for what they believe in., adding nobody is going to get fired here. Coach Dwane Casey added it's unfortunate that people "can even question" whether athletes have the right to speak out.

Raptor's star Kyle Lowry said athletes, just like anybody else, are united in wanting an end to social injustice, praising LeBron James and Chris Paul and NFL owners for speaking out while calling Trump's statements "unfortunate."

"That's just sad, to go on a Twitter rant and to be focusing on smaller things, the smallest topics — a kneeling player … and not focus on the social injustices that are going on. It's bad, it's really bad," Lowry said.

WATCH Toronto Raptors weigh in on Trump’s remarks, athletes’ reactions


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Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland Athletics has become the first major league baseball player to kneel during the national anthem.

MLB

On Saturday night, after NFL players and NBA players had responded to Mr. Trump's comments, Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to kneel during the anthem.

He was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, while his father was stationed there in the Army, but he grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, which is where Trump made his statements at the rally on Friday.

"The racism in the South is disgusting," Maxwell said. "It bothers me, and it hits home for me because that's where I'm from. The racism in the South is pretty aggressive, and I dealt with it all the way through my childhood, and my sister went through it. I feel that that's something that needs to be addressed and that needs to be changed."

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NHL

Amid the protests by pro athletes in the other major sports leagues the NHL champion Pittsburgh Penguins said they were accepting an invitation from Mr. Trump to visit the White House. The Penguins said they respect the office of the president and "the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House." The Penguins were honoured by Barack Obama after winning the Stanley Cup in 2016 and previously by George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s.

"Any agreement or disagreement with a president's politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways. However, we very much respect the rights of other individuals and groups to express themselves as they see fit," the team said in a statement released on Sunday.

There isn't much in the way of tension between Mr. Trump and the NHL, where Americans make up the minority of players compared to Canadians and Europeans. The NHL is also a predominantly white league whereas people of colour make up majorities in both the NBA and the NFL.

On Monday, Toronto Maple Leafs' star forward Auston Matthews, 20, said while American athletes have the right to protest during the U.S. national anthem, he will not be taking a knee along with them. "I don't think I'd be one of the people who would take part in that," he said at training camp.

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San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid, left, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneel during the national anthem before an NFL game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte on Sunday.

How we got here

Protesting in sports is nothing new. As The Globe's Cathal Kelly wrote last year, it's a phenomenon that dates back to at least 1906:

At the 1906 Summer Games, Irish long jumper Peter O'Connor refused to countenance the raising of the Union Jack after he'd won silver. In the midst of the medal ceremony, Mr. O'Connor darted from the podium, shimmied up the flagpole and began waving an Irish standard. As officials rushed over to pull him down, Irish and American athletes fended them off. Those Olympics – since rendered "unofficial" – are remembered in large part for being the first to feature a political protest. That trend reached its apogee at Mexico in 1968. Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska refused to stand at attention for the Soviet anthem. Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists during The Star-Spangled Banner. Other Americans winners wore black berets in solidarity.

While basketball players in both the NBA and the WNBA have been active on social issues in recent years, NFL athletes had been comparatively silent. Whereas more than 130 players sat, knelt or raised their fists in protest on NFL sidelines this weekend, just four players didn't stand and two raised their fists last week.

When Kaepernick began protesting last year during the NFL pre-season, it ignited a firestorm of controversy. Many said that he was disrespecting the flag, the national anthem and the U.S. During his season-long protest he was targeted by death threats but ended up inspiring others to join his cause.

Kaepernick was protesting because of what he felt was a lack of progress in race relations in the U.S and the systemic racism faced by people of colour.

"I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed," Kaepernick said at the time. "To me this is something that has to change. When there's significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it's supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it's supposed to, I'll stand."

There were accusations that the NFL as a league was colluding to ensure that Kaepernick didn't play this year, an allegation that Commissioner Roger Goodell denied.

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U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks while hosting the New England Patriots and team owner Robert Kraft during a celebration of the team's Super Bowl victory on the South Lawn at the White House April 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. It was the team's fifth Super Bowl victory since 1960.

Visiting the White House

Championship teams are regularly invited to meet with the sitting U.S. president. The tradition dates back to at least 1924, when the Washington Senators baseball team visited Calvin Coolidge as World Series Champions. Ronald Reagan regularized the visits during the 1980s.

Since Mr. Trump's inauguration he has met with several championship teams. Clemson visited the White House this year after winning the College Football Playoff, some members of the New England Patriots went after the Super Bowl victory and the Chicago Cubs went to the Oval Office in June to commemorate their World Series title. The Cubs also had the larger and more traditional visit with Mr. Obama in January, four days before the Trump inauguration.

North Carolina, the reigning NCAA men's basketball champion, said Saturday it will not visit the White House this season. The Tar Heels cited scheduling conflicts.

Several Patriots players said they would boycott the visit to the White House earlier this year. There is some precedent for athletes forgoing the traditional visit. During Mr. Obama's presidency then-Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas skipped the trip to the White House because of what he said was a government that was "out of control."

"Today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country," he said at the time.


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