Trump Race-Baits, NFL Kneels
Donald Trump is continuing a long tradition of attacking prominent African-Americans, and the NFL is caving to his demands, says historian Gerald Horne
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. Is the NFL caving to Donald Trump on forcing players to stand for the National Anthem? Well, it sure looks that way. In a letter today, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told owners, “We believe everyone should stand for the National Anthem.” The issue will be discussed at an owners meeting next week.
Goodell’s letter just came hours after President Trump threatened the NFL’s tax breaks with, what else, a Twitter message. Trump wrote, “Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time, disrespecting our anthem, flag and country? Change tax law.”
All this comes one day after ESPN host Jemele Hill was suspended for two weeks after criticizing comments from Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones. Naturally, President Trump took aim at Hill on Twitter as well.
Gerald Horne is an author, historian and professor of History in African American Studies at the University of Houston. Professor Horne, welcome. Your reaction to the last 24 hours of news, starting with now, what I started with, Goodell, the Commissioner indicating that he is going to go with Trump on forcing players to stand.
GERALD HORNE: Well first of all, forcing players to stand should be an issue of collective bargaining with the NFL Players Union. Their contract is expiring relatively soon and I would imagine that, that will be an issue of contention that could very well lead to a strike.
Second of all, with regard to ESPN and their suspension of Jemele Hill, the ESPN SportsCenter Host, you may know that under Connecticut law, there is a wider protection for employee’s free speech rights, than exists under Federal Law, for example. The New York Times pointed that out some weeks ago. I would hope that Miss Hill has adequate counsel in order to pursue this.
But the wider issue is the political question. That is to say that Donald J. Trump, with his devilish insight into U.S. political culture, which by the way I’m afraid even surpasses the insight of some of our friends on the left, recognizes that within the Trump base, he’s striking a resonant chord, when he goes after relatively affluent African American men.
You may recall that during the battle days of slavery, the US slave owners tried to deport free Negroes. Their particular tactic, was in a sense, ratified when Denmark Vesey, a free Negro, tried to lead a massive slave revolt in Charleston, South Carolina about 195 years ago.
Recall as well, during the battle days of lynching, that the lynchers often times targeted affluent black people because they tended to discredit the very predicate of white supremacy. So, Mr. Trump is playing a very dangerous game, but thus far, it’s helping to inflame and energize his base, which is even more dangerous.
AARON MATÉ: Right. You know, I’m reminded that it’s not just Republicans who do this. I’m thinking of when, back during President Clinton’s run for the Presidency, around his first term when he picked a fight with the rapper Sister Souljah, after she had made some comments critical of the police. It’s kind of a tradition in the US when politicians want to rile up their base, they go after prominent African Americans.
GERALD HORNE: Well, you are correct. I should also add that when it comes to trying to rile up their majority white base, that is to say, recall that George H. W. Bush did the same thing with the notorious Willie Horton ad, when he tried to invoke the specter of the black criminal and the black rapist in order to destabilize the campaign of his challenger, Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts.
Recall as well, the very essence of US politics, which has involved many in the so-called white majority retreating and abandoning the Democratic party after 1965, when President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act, which, for the first time, gave a majority of black people the right to an untrammeled right to vote. This is a reality that I’m afraid often times eludes many of our friends who supposedly are with us.
AARON MATÉ: If you could comment more on what ESPN’s Jemele Hill has done. First she called out President Trump for being white supremacist, faced a huge backlash for that. Then she went after Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones, as I said because he said that, “Anybody who disrespects the flag will not play.” I’m wondering if you can just comment on the significance of her speaking out, A, as a person of color but also as a woman in a totally male dominated field of sports broadcasting.
GERALD HORNE: Well, it’s very heroic on her part. She deserves our support. Obviously she touched a sensitive nerve when she suggested that those who objected to what Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones had recommended, said go after those who advertise on Cowboys’ football games. That’s a very sensitive and explosive chord that she was striking. Keep in mind as well that, if you consult the record, you’ll find that Jerry Jones himself has a demonstrated record with regard to, shall we say, abuse of younger women. I would suggest that you look at the record in that regard, and you’ll find incidents, that I’m sure will turn your stomach.
The fact that Jemele Hill went after The Cowboys and went after Jerry Jones, shows an extraordinary amount of heroism on her part.
AARON MATÉ: The NFL owners, are you surprised that they appear to be coalescing around bowing down to Trump, and as Goodell suggested today, making it mandatory to stand for the anthem?
GERALD HORNE: Well, I think that the NFL owners are doing at root, a political and financial calculation. They recognize that there is a kind of equivalence between a good deal of their viewer base, and their audience and a good deal of the Trump base. When Mr. Trump makes these inflammatory statements, they feel that a good deal of their audience will follow after Mr. Trump and may decide to boycott the NFL.
What I hope that they’re taking into account is that there are football fans, such as myself, and such as millions of others who find what Mr. Trump and Jerry Jones are doing is absolutely abhorrent. In some ways, the NFL owners are between a rock and a hard place. Predictably, they’ve decided to tail after the right wing sector of their base. But, I daresay that, that may be a decision that they’ll live to regret.
AARON MATÉ: You know, in his hostility towards these Black athletes who are taking a knee in protest of racism and police brutality during the anthem, I thought Trump raised an important question and his tweet today, when he talked about the NFL’s tax break. If you check the second part of his tweet, in which he conditions his question on the disrespect for the flag. But, the first part is simple. If you just read, “Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks?” that’s a fair question in and of itself.
GERALD HORNE: It certainly is. Look at the Los Angeles Rams, once the St. Louis Rams. They looted the state of Missouri and the city of St. Louis in order to build a stadium, then abandoned that stadium and moved to Los Angeles, where they’re now looting the city of Englewood and the County of Los Angeles in order to build an even grander stadium.
This is nothing new. This happens all the time. I do agree with you that at a time when many of our public schools are being starved of financing, when public hospitals are crumbling all about, why are tax breaks being accorded to billionaire football owners? This is worse than insanity.
AARON MATÉ: Going back to something you said earlier, that the NFL owners might come to regret siding with Trump on this. Why do you say that?
GERALD HORNE: Well, I think that Jemele Hill is an intelligent woman. She recognizes when she suggests a boycott of advertisers on Cowboys’ football games because of what Jerry Jones has recommended, that there are those within her own fan base that will agree with her and that will follow her recommendation, and therefore will rebel against this idea that NFL owners should crack down on players who, after all, are protesting against police terror against Black people. Not only against black people, but we already know as I suggested a few moments ago, that often times affluent black people are disproportionately targeted by the police authorities because they seem to stir up some kind of race-class antagonism that lies close to the heart of the founding of the United States of America.
So, I daresay that the NFL owners may live to regret this decision that they’re taking and hopefully they will live to regret it.
AARON MATÉ: We’ll leave it there. Gerald Horne, author, historian, professor of History in African American Studies at the University of Houston, Thank you.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you.
AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.