DAVIE (CBSMiami) – The Miami Dolphins, the NFL and the rest of the American sports world are wrapped up in a political whirlwind.
President Donald Trump’s weekend comments condemning athletes that kneel during the national anthem have polarized the country, perhaps as much as anything else he’s said since taking office.
Trump’s original remarks were made on Friday during an event in Alabama.
The President said players who protest the anthem should be fired by the owner of their respective team.
“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, he’s fired’?” Trump said.
He then tweeted on Monday that it’s not a race issue, despite the reason for players kneeling during the anthem being a show of support for people of color who are being oppressed in the United States, particularly by law enforcement officers.
It was a movement started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said last year. “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.”
At the time, San Francisco was being coached by Chip Kelly who called Kaepernick’s kneeling “his right as a citizen” and said “it’s not my right to tell him not to do something.”
Overall the NFL remained silent on the matter, until Trump began to chime in.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement on Saturday morning, saying in part “Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL.”
Some players, like Dolphins safety Michael Thomas, got very emotional when talking about the issue.
“It just amazed me that with everything going on in the world, especially in the United States, and this is what you’re concerned about? As a man, a father, an African-American man, as someone in the NFL who you called a “SOB”, I took it personally,” Thomas said. “But its’ bigger than me. I have a daughter, she must live in this world. I want to make sure she can look at her dad and say he tried to make a change.”
Others, like fellow safety Reshad Jones, are just trying to stay focused on their work.
“I’m really not worried about the President’s commenting and all that’s going on right now,” Jones said Monday. “I’m here to play football and help the Miami Dolphins win football games.”
Still, it’s difficult to ignore the topic that has been grabbing headlines for the past few days.
Before Sunday’s game against the New York Jets, Dolphins players, coaches and even team owner Stephen Ross stood together on the sideline, arms locked during the national anthem.
“Once we decided as a team to do something, this includes black players and white players saying, “what can we do?” some said they didn’t want to take a knee but wanted to support,” Thomas explained. “Nobody was opposed to locking arms. Some players wanted to take a knee. For me, it was big to have everybody who didn’t support us last year or who might have been against us last year to be with us now. That includes the coaching staff and ownership.”
Every NFL team took part in some form of demonstration, but some even took it a step further.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks did something a little different, simply staying in the locker room during the anthem.
In Arizona, some fans booed as the Dallas Cowboys briefly took a knee before the national anthem.
Like the Cardinals, they then locked arms in unity during the song.
The league itself re-released a unity commercial called “Inside These Lines” on Sunday. The spot originally aired during Super Bowl LI.
National anthem offenders weren’t the only athletes in Trump’s crosshairs last weekend.
Trump responded to NBA star Stephon Curry saying he wouldn’t come to the White House to commemorate the Golden State Warriors’ NBA title by taking away Curry’s invitation.
The Warriors announced soon after that the entire team would be skipping the White House visit.
That led to NBA superstar LeBron James responding on social media to Trump’s comments about Curry, calling the president a “bum.”
James was asked about Trump and his social media posts mentioning the president on Monday at the Cavaliers’ media day.
“We know this is the greatest country in the world,” James said. “It’s the land of the free. But we still have problems just like everybody else and when we have those problems, we have to figure out a way how we come together and be as great as we can be as a people. Because the people run this country. Not one individual. And damn sure not him.”
Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra called the statements offensive and predicted this could trigger an even bigger wave of activism among professional athletes.
“This is the time to take a stand and I absolutely do commend and respect everybody that’s doing something and we all feel a call to action right now,” Spoelstra said.