Since this past Sunday’s major protests across the NFL in response to President Donald Trump calling NFL Black players who have been kneeling for the National Anthem “Son’s of a Bitches” at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama last Friday, many in the sports media have spoken. Broadcaster Bob Costas gave his two cents and so did NFL HOF Tight End Shannon Sharpe on his daily morning show “Undisputed” on Fox Sports 1. Throughout the Twitter sports world and social media folks have been discussing both responses along with San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Greg Popovich’s brilliant press conference on the protest and whiteness, which I will discuss in another piece.
From what I’ve observed on my Twitter timeline and on my Facebook news feed, people have been praising (and criticizing…looking at you Trump fans and racists) both Costas and Sharpe’s opinion; particularly Costas, whose response I found very shallow and problematic. Liberals in particular have overwhelmingly been praising Costas message, but my issues with his message in contrast to Sharpe’s which I found brilliant and not shallow has to do with race. To be more clear, it has to do with Whiteness and respectability politics infiltrating and white-washing the big picture of why Colin Kaepernick started kneeling in the first place:
To bring awareness to the state-sanctioned murders of Black people every 28 hours at the hands of Law Enforcement.
Shannon Sharpe made this point brilliantly and clear, while also stating he did not buy this weekends protest and was disappointed. He particularly pointed out that the original message of Kaepernick’s protest was diluted and replaced by calls for “unity” in their opposition and defiance of Trump and his message Friday. He believes the protests were only done to protect the NFL’s brand and their pockets. Costas on the other hand, spoke about the cynicism of only conflating patriotism with the military and “bumper sticker flag-waving,” while heaping praise at militarization and taking a quick jab at Kaepernick’s politicization. Here are both videos and excerpts from what they said:
Shannon Sharpe Video and Transcript ( Via Undisputed-FS1)
I’m disappointed. And I’m unimpressed. I’m disappointed, Skip, and Joy, because this is the tipping point. Of the 7,537 things that President Trump has said in the last 50 years, him calling an NFL player an SOB is what brought the NFL, the owners and its players, together. And while some might be moved by the conscience of these NFL owners, it wasn’t their conscience that moved them. It was the cash.
– Because see Skip, what we know about people with money, they don’t like being told what to do. They don’t like being bullied. You see, President Trump has bullied a lot of people. The very first thing that he uttered as he strolled down that escalator 2 and 1/2 years ago, is that Mexico is sending us their worst, murderers, rapists, drug dealers. That didn’t shock the conscience of the NFL owner.
Him offending Gold Star Families, nope. Him calling Rosie O’Donnell a pig. Him on the Access Hollywood talking about grabbing hoo-ha. That did not shock the very conscience of seven NFL owners. Skip, allow me a second to name those guys. One, Daniel Snyder. The guy who’s on your monitor. Jerry Jones, Bob, Mr. Bob Kraft. McNair, Houston Texans. Woody Johnson, Shahid Khan.
They gave a million dollars for the inauguration of President Trump. And now they seem to be shocked. Every author that’s written a book about President Trump, and they started writing books about him in the 1980s, they say he is exactly today as he was then. So that is all I want to say about him, Skip. Now what has happened?
Because what he said in Alabama plays into what– you know what happens in Alabama, Skip. There’s something that’s going on in America right now that’s more valuable than Google and Apple stock. Is more valuable than gold and bitcoin. It’s called race. It’s very valuable. And President Trump, he understands that. But Skip, now I’m unimpressed because this wasn’t a protest.
This was unity. So what are we showing solidarity against, Skip? We’re showing solidarity because President Trump, he challenged the very men, wealthy, wealthy, men. Billionaires. And he told them what you should do if someone protests. You should fire them. They don’t like being told what to do, Skip. And then, Skip, he called players that protested the anthem, he called them SOBs.
Think about that now. He called them SOBs. That’s what got the owners. That’s what got the players to unite. Is that the worst that he’s ever said? Absolutely not. Never call Vladimir Putin an SOB. Never called Erdogan of Turkey an SOB. Even those men that walked down the streets in Charlottesville, Virginia, Skip, carrying the tiki lights. Hollering what they were hollering.
Inciting violence. He never said SOB. As a matter of fact, he said, there were some good people in that group. What has transpired, Skip, again, because what were they uniting against? It’s almost like they were uniting against Colin Kaepernick’s right for free speech. That’s not what Colin Kaepernick is talking about. It’s almost like they are uniting against you tried to attack us.
Because see what happened, Skip, when he was from the bully pulpit, when he was looking down upon everybody else, the owners never had a problem with that. It wasn’t until he came for the NFL that their conscience was shocked. How dare you tell us what we should do. You think you can tell us that we should fire somebody? Because remember, there’s a First Amendment.
And, what, 14 months after Colin Kaepernick originally kneeled, and when they ask him, he said it’s not about the flag. It’s not about the veterans. It’s not about the police. It’s about the brutality that unarmed men and women of color are suffering. It’s about the injustices. It’s about the inequities that’s going on in America.
That’s what he said. And still we talk about the freedom of speech, and in all these teams released the statements, said how divisive. Only the Seattle Seahawks touched on what the real issue was. And the problem that I have, Skip, is that these guys, some of them. And I’m very disappointed, in a few I like to say, I’m very disappointed in one of my very best friends, Ray Lewis.
Ray Lewis sat in that chair right there, and said that he could never kneel. He could never not stand for the national anthem, because so many people died and he had family members that fight for this country for the opportunity– and the flag means so much to him. And he kneeled. Not on one knee, on both knees. So what were you kneeling for? You kneeled, you showed solidarity, because of what President Trump said?
And when Colin Kaepernick is trying to draw attention to the injustices going on, you deem that inappropriate? LaSean McCoy, you remember what you said about a month ago, about Colin Kaepernick? Not only were you kneeling, you were stretching. You were even worse than kneeling. The hypocrisy.
And that’s what I find so ironic about this, Skip. The very people that said they could never, ever, kneel. Some people, I like Tom Brady. Tom Brady said I’m not going to touch it. I prefer you do that. But these, all of a sudden, I just want to know what are unified against? Are you– are you showing unity? Are you showing solidarity against racism? Or the injustices that’s in this country?
Or are you showing solidarity against President Trump and what he said, his attack on the very NFL, the shield. Because what we know about, above all else, those 32 men, and the commissioner, will protect that NFL shield at all costs, against all foreign and domestic. President Trump had to find that out the hard way. They’ve allowed him to attack so many groups in America. It wasn’t until he came for one of 32, and 1,600 men, and only a handful, only a handful of them, Skip, have ever kneeled in protest.
Bob Costas (Via CNN/Daily Kos)
Part of what’s happened is that sports and patriotism and the flag have been conflated to such an extent that people can’t separate out any nuance. If you go to see Hamilton, which is about the founding of the republic, no one said, wait a minute. Don’t raise the curtain until we hear the national anthem. When you went to see Saving Private Ryan no one said “turn off the projector until we’ve had the national anthem.” It’s in sports where this stuff happens.
Sometimes movingly, sometimes I submit cynically, because wrapping yourself in the flag and honoring the military is something which no one is going to object to. We all respect their sacrifice. We all honor their sacrifice, and yet what it has come to mean is that the flag is primarily and only about the military.
This is no disrespect to the military. It’s a huge part of the narrative, but Martin Luther King was a patriot. Susan B. Anthony was a patriot. Dissidents are patriots. School teachers and social workers are patriots. And yet at Yankee stadium, if we can shift sports, not only play the national anthem before the game but “God bless America” at the seventh inning stretch 81 times a year at home games and say, “please rise as the Yankees honor a military guest.” I have no problem with that. I stand every time I’m in the ballpark no matter what it is, I stand. And certainly respect the military person they bring out there. But there is never a schoolteacher, or social worker. Patriotism comes in many forms, and what has happened is that it’s been conflated with– with kind of a bumper sticker kind of flag waving, and with the military only. So that people cannot see that in his own way, Colin Kaepernick, however imperfectly, is doing a patriotic thing and so, too, are some of these other players.
While I do agree with Costas that American patriotism has been conflated with “military only” and “bumper sticker flag-waving” (which is all American patriotism really is…), it’s the exact patriotism used by those opposing Kaepernick’s and the NFL protests. While making this point he then quickly plays the respectability politics game and reminds everyone he respects and honors the military and their sacrifice, and that “this is no disrespect to the military.” So really his point to me was meaningless. He just said that Patriotism is cynically conflated with “military only” and it shouldn’t be, but then does exactly that by stating clearly he honors the military during the anthem and during the 7th inning stretch singing of “God Bless America” at MLB games…
This is what is confusing to a Radical leftest like myself who is not a liberal. It seems to me that liberalism seems to be always concerned with respectability politics and respecting the other side while supposedly being the opposite of right wing conservatism. Not only did Costas praise U.S. militarization and imperialism by conflating it with patriotism while trying to argue that people shouldn’t do that, he then took a jab at Kaepernick by calling his protest “imperfectly.” So really Costas did not say anything meaningful, he just said something because he’s Bob Costas and has to say something.
The differences to me in their responses has everything to do with race. Bob Costas Whiteness has him make sure that people understand he is not trying to disrespect the military while making a meaningless point about the anthem protest, patriotism, and militarization. Shannon Sharpe as a Black man understands the reasons why Kaepernick is taking a knee because before he’s viewed as an NFL Hall of Fame Player, he understands he is just another Black man in Amerikkka just like the Seahawks Michael Bennett in Las Vegas or an ordinary U.S. citizen like Philando Castile in Minnesota.