‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’
It's not unusual to hear profanity-laced rants in professional sports. A coach might drop an F-bomb while chastising a player for blowing a play. Opponents use foul language against each other. I've even seen drunk fans cuss each other out and even hurl profanities towards the athletes on the field. Foul language happens in sports.
I never imagined I'd ever hear the sitting president of the United States publicly use obscenities directed at pro-athletes.
But on Friday night at a rally in Alabama, Donald Trump used the term "son of a bitch" to refer to pro-athletes who exercise their constitutionally-protected freedom of speech to silently protest police brutality and social inequality. Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” My mouth fell open in shock while the arena erupted in cheers. In an obvious response to players like Colin Kaepernick taking a knee and Michael Bennett staying seated during the national anthem, Trump chose Alabama, with it's racist history, to tell these young Black men to stick to sports and honor the flag. In a moment, Trump managed to attack professional football players, their mothers, and the Constitution. He spoke more harshly about peacefully-protesting athletes than he had about white supremacists (who he eventually referred to as some, "... very fine people." In a rare feat, Trump's comments and subsequent Twitter attacks united players, coaches, owners and fans from across the board. It was fascinating.
I could go into the specifics about the anthem protests and whether or not I think they're justified, but that's not what this post is about. This post is about what transpired after Trump's initial comments. NFL teams across America showed their solidarity. Some players knelt during the anthem. Some stood, all with the arms interlocked together. Several teams including the Pittsburgh Steelers waited until after the anthem to run out onto the field. Tom Brady, a self-proclaimed supporter of Trump, stood arm-in-arm with this teammates and called Trump's comments "divisive." Even Jerry Jones, who discouraged his team from protesting in the past locked arms with his players and knelt on the field before they all stood for the anthem. The acts of solidarity were powerful.
But just like the folks in that Alabama arena, Trump supporters took to social media to show their support for him and his 'Murica. They demonized "millionaire" athletes who needed to just shut up and be grateful. I started getting upset... this was personal. They were talking about people we know... calling them the n-word and telling them to shut up and just play. That bothered me.
See... Ryan hadn't made an NFL roster in two years when he made the final cuts in Buffalo in 2003. Those two years had been difficult. There were times Ryan wanted to quit. The distance and stresses of the life had taken a toll on our marriage. Many sacrifices had been made for him to be standing on that sideline. After the game, we discussed how emotional we'd both gotten during the fly-over after the anthem. It was an awesome, pride-filled start to that chapter in our journey.
Over the next five years, there were triumphs and pains. Babies and injuries. Our lives were anything but just football. There were charity events, breast cancer awareness campaigns, Christmas parties for underprivileged kids, Garth Brooks' Teammate for Kids. You see... Ryan didn't just play football. He didn't just shut up and collect a check. He utilized his unique position for change... for good. The Trump "son of a bitch" comment and the peanut gallery's 'Murica response made me think about one time in particular. Ryan was injured. He had plantar fasciitis in both feet - the fascia on one foot tore in half as he was running down the field on a special teams play. He went on IR and had surgery on the other foot a couple of weeks later. But there he was... hobbling and in pain... visiting kids with his fellow tight ends at the children's hospital nearby. He didn't just stick to football. 99% of professional athletes won't just stick to sports (thank God).
Anyway, our experiences prompted some thoughts yesterday that I posted on Facebook. They picked up some steam, so I thought I'd share them. You can click here. So the next time you hear someone tell athletes to stick to sports, think of all the good that has been accomplished by these athletes who decided not to.