A year after NFL's Colin Kaepernick knelt to protest racial injustice and police brutality, Trump lashes out on Twitter, and celebrities rebel.
“Tonight, I’m taking a knee for America,” singer Stevie Wonder told his audience as he put one knee to the stage during a concert at the Global Citizen Festival in New York City on Saturday, September 23.
With the help of his son, Wonder put his other leg down so that he was kneeling and facing the cheering crowd, with his son doing the same. "I’m taking both knees," Wonder said. "Both knees in prayer for our planet, our future, our leaders of the world and our globe."
The recent wave of kneeling to take a stand comes after US President Donald Trump’s comments on Friday at a political rally in Alabama.
There Trump described National Football League players who chose to take the knee through renditions of the national banner as "sons of bitches" who should be fired.
Trump's diatribe did not end there.
The US president took to his favourite platform – Twitter – where he continued tweeting on the subject on Monday.
If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
Football players taking the knee for social justice made their way onto the political scene in August 2016 during the sport’s pre-season games.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem, citing racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons.
Kaepernick first began his protest by sitting on the sidelines. Later, at another game, he knelt alongside his teammates during the anthem.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour," Kaepernick told NFL Media. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
As the season continued, more and more players as well as audience members, supported Kaepernick’s message by also kneeling, placing a hand on a fellow athlete who is kneeling or, in some cases, linking arms with one another in unity.
Some football players showed their support for Kaepernick by raising their fists in salute during the national anthem.
History of 'taking the knee'
Over the weekend, an image of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr from 1965 circulated on the internet.
In the photograph, King is on his left knee peacefully demonstrating against voter registration along with many other activists, in Selma, Alabama in 1965.
Later that day, more than 250 people were arrested for marching without a permit.
King’s daughter Bernice King also voiced her disbelief with social rights today by juxtaposing her father’s image with that of Kaepernick and calling on President Trump to realise the nature of the issue at hand.
Black power salute
Known as the Black Power Salute, this act of peaceful protest previously rocked the 1968 Olympics when first and third place winners from the United States raised their fists and bowed their heads during the national anthem as a sign of black power, amidst the fight for equal civil rights in the US.
Former president Barack Obama voiced support in 2016 for Kaepernick's right to protest during the anthem saying that “I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that have to be talked about."
Unfortunately, such actions have not gone unpunished.
No team has signed Kaepernick on since he became a free agent at the end of the last football season. This alleged blackballing of Kaepernick by NFL teams has been attributed towards his activism against ongoing social justice issues in the US.
Trump’s rhetoric against kneeling football players continued over this weekend through a series of Twitter messages where Trump said that if NFL players wanted "the privilege" of high salaries, they "should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!"
If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Trump once again called for NFL owners to fire players who protest during the US national anthem.
He suggested fans could boycott NFL games in order to pressure teams to discipline players who protest the anthem.
In another tweet, Trump said that the "league should back" fans who are upset about the protests.
By Monday, in response to #TakeAKnee, the US president was attempting to push another hashtag on the topic:
Supporters of Kaepernick and what he stands for, however, are calling for a boycott of the NFL until the quarterback is signed onto a team.
On Sunday, dozens of football players and coaches across the country took a stance against Trump’s comments by kneeling or linking arms in unity.
The Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans chose to not come out onto the field under after the pre-game ceremony ended and the national anthem read.
Seahawks and Titans' decision was criticised as being unpatriotic and an insult to the US military and army, both of whom are often honoured during pre-game ceremonies and the national anthem.
However, the presence of football teams on the field during the national anthem is a fairly recent phenomenon.
Before 2009, footballers would enter the field after the anthem and there is nothing in the NFL’s current regulations which suggests the teams need be present.
In fact, this tradition came about after 2009 when the US military started to increase funding for football teams, an act called “paid patriotism” by some.
In 2015, the US Department of Defense paid nearly $7 million to professional football teams for various gestures such as advertisements honouring troops.
Spreading to other sports
Trump also carried his spar to the National Basketball Association this weekend in an early morning Twitter message on Saturday, where the president rescinded a White House invitation to Stephen Curry, a player for the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
Trump’s tweet came after Curry told reporters that he would "vote" against the planned visit by the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
“President has... the things that he's said and the things that he hasn't said in the right times, that we won't stand for it,” said the two-time NBA most valuable player. “And by acting or and not going, hopefully that will inspire some change when it comes to what we tolerate in this country and what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye to.”
"It's beneath the leader of a country to go that route," Curry said at a news conference on Saturday after Trump rescinded his invite. "It's not what leaders do."
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr also commented on Trump’s discourse saying that in normal times political differences could be set aside and a visit to the White House could be possible, “but because of the differences that exist in the country, the president made it really, really difficult for us to honour that institution and our differences … in terms of our team’s and our organization’s values.”
Multiple other NBA players and officials responded to Trump’s tweet on Saturday, most famous of whom is acclaimed Lebron James.
James, a prominent supporter of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential elections, came to Curry's defence, disputing Trump's assertion that visiting the White House was an honour.
U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017
NBA Player’s Association President and Houston Rocket’s guard Chris Paul also called Trump out.
With everything that's going on in our country, why are YOU focused on who's kneeling and visiting the White House??? #StayInYoLane— Chris Paul (@CP3) September 23, 2017
The act of taking the knee also spread to Major League Baseball.
African American Oakland Athletics rookie player Bruce Maxwell knelt during the national anthem. Maxwell placed his hand over his heart and faced the flag as his fellow teammate placed a hand on his shoulder in support.
Answering reporters’ questions after the game, Maxwell said that he was “kneeling for the people that don't have a voice.”
The Athletics issued a statement on Twitter that read: “The Oakland A's pride ourselves on being inclusive. We respect and support all of our players' constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”