While the world may never know what “covfefe” actually means, it’s hard to not side-eye the president’s verbal war on black athletes. Right off the bat in 2017, many began to call foul when Trump started taking jabs via Twitter at black athletes who were using their platform to peacefully protest societal injustices. Trump’s Twitter attacks seemed like nothing more than a trivial pursuit for attention or a distraction from his failing legislation and White House scandals. But likely unbeknownst to Trump, his out of pocket comments inadvertently created an atmosphere where politics and sports began to become even more deeply intertwined. Black players in both the NFL and NBA became more vocal, united and political than ever in 2017.
It all started back in September when Trump spoke at a rally in Alabama. "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he's fired. He's fired!" Trump infamously said on Sept. 22, in reference to how he felt NFL owners should handle players who protest during the national anthem. He also encouraged fans to “leave the stadium” as another tactic to stop athletes from protesting.
“That we basically don’t stand for what our president has said, and the things he hasn’t said at the right time."
“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!” he tweeted on Sept 24.
The prior day he sent a tweet aimed directly at Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry for saying he didn’t want to partake in his team’s trip to the White House to celebrate their 2017 championship.
“That we basically don’t stand for what our president has said, and the things he hasn’t said at the right time,” Curry said. “By not going, hopefully it will inspire some change for what we tolerate in this country and what we stand for, what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye toward.”
The “invitation is withdrawn,” Trump tweeted in response.
The backlash that followed Trump’s tweets were swift, with protests among players breaking out across the NFL in response on Sept. 24.
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"As a man, as a father, as an African-American man, as somebody in the NFL, as one of those sons of bitches, yeah, I took it personally," Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas told reporters. "But ... it's bigger than me. I've got a daughter. She's going to have to live in this world. And I'm going to do whatever I got to do to make sure she can look at her dad and be like, 'Hey, you did something, you tried to make a change.'"
NBA superstar LeBron James had some choice words for Trump, too, calling him a “bum” in a tweet. The Cleveland Cavaliers forward went on to expand on that sentiment in a press conference on Sept. 25. "And we're not gonna let — I'm not gonna let, while I have this platform — to let one individual, no matter the power, no matter the impact that he should have or she should have, ever use sport as a platform to divide us,” James explained, and he wasn’t alone in that sentiment.
“With everything that’s going on in our country, why are YOU focused on who’s kneeling and visiting the White House?” Houston Rocket Chris Paul tweeted on Sept. 23, before adding. “And I doubt he’s man enough to call any of those players a son of a bitch to their face...”
The derogatory language used by Trump had athletes and owners alike fired up, with people cropping up everyday to vocalize their opinions on the issue. Before conversations could die down on the subject, Trump was at it, again, only this time his criticisms were pointed at Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch.
"Marshawn Lynch of the NFL's Oakland Raiders stands for the Mexican Anthem and sits down to boos for our National Anthem. Great disrespect! Next time NFL should suspend him for remainder of season. Attendance and ratings way down," Trump tweeted on Nov. 20.
The derogatory language used by Trump had athletes and owners alike fired up, with people cropping up everyday to vocalize their opinions on the issue.
The previous day Trump seemingly threw down the gauntlet in a war of words with Lavar Ball, father of Los Angeles Laker Lonzo Ball and other sons LaMelo Ball and LiAngelo Ball. The latter son, former basketball player at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), was accused of shoplifting in China in November along with two other players. Trump claimed he played a large part in Ball’s release and called the dad “very ungrateful” after Lavar brushed off Trump’s alleged involvement with his son’s return to the United States.
Trump’s obsession with the political and social musings of black athletes isn’t a minor fascination but instead almost a sport of his very own creation. It’s no doubt that his jabs at athletes help keep him in the zeitgeist, while arguably only further stirring the pot of racial division in this nation. Even so, the numbers when it comes to who’s who in sports don’t lie.
Seventy-four percent of NBA players that participated in the 2015-2016 season were black, according to a report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. The NFL is comprised of almost 70 percent black players. However, there are no black majority owners in the MLB, NBA or NFL.
It’s peak whitesplaining as Trump patronizes these black players for caring about the racial issues that are woven into the fabric of America’s history. Essentially with every tweet, Trump is telling these players that their protests, opinions and outcry to these racial injustices don’t matter because they’re just privileged rich black people. But financially well off black people still endure racism and discrimination. Trump isn’t just shouting into the ether when he sends those tweets in attempts to pummel the causes of these black athletes either. He’s speaking directly to his supporters.
“If nothing, he’s been consistent. But it’s important that Steph [Curry] and LeBron have both come out and talked about the danger and damage of this presidency in their own ways,” civil rights activist DeRay McKesson told the Undefeated in September. “Hopefully, what they did will provide an opening for other athletes. It could create space for other athletes. Hopefully, whether that’s in the NBA or NFL, it will open it up for other athletes to do so.”
Trump isn’t just shouting into the ether when he sends those tweets in attempts to pummel the causes of these black athletes either. He’s speaking directly to his supporters.
While James has always been vocal about racial inequalities, now, other athletes are willing to do the same and following in the steps of predecessors like Muhammed Ali. This year is the start of a new era in sports where the fight for equality is happening both under the bright lights of the game and outside of it.
In 2018, Trump’s attacks on black sport figures will be inevitable, but if how things played out last year is any indicator of where these conversations are going it’s safe to bet that athletes will be taking charge. Last year was the start of a movement where athletes refused to stick to just sports, and began to embrace their influence to speak out on important issues. This new breed of athletes aren’t afraid to give the president a piece of their mind and that’s something to look forward to.