Donald Trump’s demand while addressing an adoring crowd of white folks in Huntsville, Alabama that the rich, white, largely Republican owners of National Football League teams fire the “son of a bitch” among players who engage in symbolic protest has begun a fight he cannot win.
First, by using the term “son of a bitch” to describe the protesters who are trying to bring light to the current racial injustices in American society, Trump insulted the mothers of African-American athletes, thereby crossing a line that few people are foolish enough to do.
“Guess that makes me a proud bitch!” tweeted Teresa Kaepernick, the mother of Colin Kaepernick.
What followed was an outpouring of solidarity and protest from athletes, including two of the greatest basketball players in history, LeBron James and Steph Curry, as well as coaches, managers and fans from coast to coast and even in London. (The growing racial awareness in professional sports today is reminiscent of the era of Muhammad Ali, Tommy Smith and John Carlos.)
Prior to Sunday’s NFL games, the Seattle Seahawks’ players released a statement that sums up the sentiments of players throughout the league:
“We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms.”
Second, Trump chose to enunciate his “son of a bitch” barbs aimed at black athletes in Alabama – the state with a checkered racial history to say the least.
From the Tuskegee syphilis experiments in Macon County, to the Scottsboro Boys, to the Montgomery bus boycott, to the 50 unsolved terror bombings targeting black people in Birmingham from 1947-1965, to the vicious attacks on Reverend Fred Shuttleworth’s church, to the dogs and fire hoses, to “Bull” Connor and Governor George Wallace “standing in the schoolhouse door,” to the murder of four young girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church, Alabama has been the location of some of the worst racial violence in American history. Trump’s message in Alabama was clear: You black athletes work on our plantations, so don’t get uppity.
What followed from Trump after he sparked such a widespread backlash was the typical “punch, parry, kick” playbook Republicans use when they interject racism into the political discourse for electoral gain as Ian Haney Lopez presents in Dog Whistle Politics, an important book about how right-wingers use race as a cudgel to beat up their opponents.
First Trump “punched” racism into the dialogue with his “son of a bitch” statement before an adoring crowd of white Republicans in Alabama. Then he “parried” for the reporters saying that his words had “nothing to do with race.” What we’ll see next is the “kick” when Trump and his surrogates like Laura Ingraham, Breitbart, Drudge and Fox News denounce the African-American athletes for being the ones responsible for interjecting race in politics. It’s a classic tactic that people like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh have perfected over the years.
What Trump needs to learn is that there are no professional sports in this country without African-American athletes. Colin Kaepernick, who grew up in northern California and is clearly cognizant of the activism of black athletes who came before him (such as Tommy Smith and John Carlos, who were San Jose State students) as well as the power of high profile athletes to bring attention to racial injustice has started something big.
If Trump continues down this racist path through the rest of the football season the black NFL players should contemplate a direct action this February at the Super Bowl – that unparalleled orgy of advertising dollars and unbridled consumer capitalism unique to the United States – and SHUT IT DOWN!