NBA, NFL players refuse to stay in their lane

President Donald Trump drew the ire of many NBA and NFL stars last Saturday, who seemed to collectively decide the commander in chief’s latest attacks on their livelihoods and right to self-expression went too far.

The chaos that ensued after Trump’s attacks on NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem and NBA players who don’t want to visit the White House all but ensured that professional athletes may never keep their political opinions to themselves again.

‘He’s Fired!’

It all began Friday night during a speech Trump was giving at an Alabama rally supporting Sen. Luther Strange’s campaign, when he began arguing that NFL players who — in his mind — disrespect the American flag should lose their jobs.

“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!’” Trump told the crowd.

NFL players almost immediately took to Twitter to voice their displeasure with the president’s comments.

DeMaurice Smith, executive editor of the NFL Players Association, tweeted that with attacks like this coming from the White House, the players he represents “can no longer afford to stick to sports.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell put out a statement condemning Trump’s “divisive” rhetoric.

“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities,” the statement read.

In the middle of tweetstorms about healthcare and national security, Trump both doubled-down on his thoughts concerning kneeling NFL players and slammed Goodell for “trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.”

Trump takes on the NBA’s golden boy

While the NFL raged against the president, Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry publicly discussed his hesitation about visiting the White House, a tradition for professional teams that win their sport’s championship.

“By acting and not going, hopefully that will inspire some change when it comes to what we tolerate in this country, what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye toward,” Curry said during a Friday press conference.

On Saturday morning, as Trump was taking heat from the NFL, he tweeted that because of Curry’s “hesitation” about going to the White House, he was disinvited. (As usual, the tweet was potentially inspired by a Fox News report.)

NBA players quickly came to Curry’s defense via Twitter, including Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, who tweeted that the president is a “bum.”

The Warriors released a statement later Saturday explaining that they perceived Trump’s tweet as a disinvitation for the entire team.

“In lieu of a visit to the White House, we have decided we will constructively use our trip to the nation’s capital in February to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion — the values that we embrace as an organization,” the statement read.

Stay in your lane!

What do two professional sports leagues actively revolting against the president of the United States have in common? Saturday’s events basically shattered the concept of “stay in your lane,” a phrase often used when a public figure offers an opinion on another industry, like athletes talking about politics.

The phrase has become a lot more common in the age of Trump, when many seem to feel that celebrities or athletes divulging their political views is a violation of some sort of social contract.

Take the reaction to “SportsCenter” anchor Jemele Hill tweeting that the president is a “white supremacist,” which included Trump claiming that ESPN personalities sharing their political views has corresponded with a drop in viewership. Many felt she overstepped the boundaries of her position, while others applauded her for her honesty.

Hill, for her part, welcomed Curry into the fraternity of people Trump has criticized on social media.

Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel has also taken flack for poking his nose into the political debate over healthcare after his newborn son was forced to have open-heart surgery. He recently used the opening monologue on his show to talk about what he felt were the lies in the proposed Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill.

“Before you post a nasty Facebook message saying I’m politicizing my son’s health problems, I want you to know I am politicizing my son’s health problems, because I have to,” he said. “… So you can shove your disgusting comments where your doctor won’t be giving you a prostate exam once they take your health care benefits away.”

Sports get political

Curry may have inadvertently forced two other championship squads to make hasty decisions about going to the White House.

Earlier Saturday, the University of North Carolina’s basketball team announced it wouldn’t be visiting the White House due to a scheduling conflict, though a UNC spokesman said the team was willing to make the trip.

On Sunday morning, the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins released a statement saying they would indeed attend their White House ceremony, which earned a positive Trump tweet. “Any agreement or disagreement with a president’s politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways,” the statement read.

The White House controversy quickly took a backseat to the issue of kneeling during the National Anthem.

Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first Major League Baseball player to kneel during the National Anthem Saturday night, suggesting that Trump’s tweets may have galvanized professional athletes to express themselves even more.

So did music legend Stevie Wonder, who took not one, but two knees during his set at the Global Citizen Festival.

Come Sunday, all eyes were on the NFL to see if reports that as many as 50 players would join the National Anthem protests were true. Ironically, the last game of the day was in D.C., as the Oakland Raiders faced off against the Washington football team.

The day began, as usual, with Trump tweets.

The first game of the day happened to take place in London between the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars. Multiple players knelt during the anthem, including ex-Raven Ray Lewis. Jaguars owner Shahid Khan locked arms with his players in a sign of unity.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers posted an Instagram photo of himself and a few teammates kneeling hours before his game against the Cincinnati Bengals. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who may or may not be close friends with Trump, responded to Rodgers’ post with a flexing arm emoji, presumably a show of support.

#unity #brotherhood #family #dedication #love #

A post shared by Aaron Rodgers (@aaronrodgers12) on

Many players from multiple NFL franchises spent Sunday kneeling, raising their fists or locking arms during the playing of the National Anthem. Brady, for example, didn’t kneel, but locked arms with teammates who chose to stand while others knelt.

The Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers chose to stay in their respective locker rooms during the National Anthem, though Steelers offensive lineman and ex-Army ranger Alejandro Villanueva stood on the sidelines while the rest of his team stayed in its locker room.

Trump tweeted multiple times Sunday about the protests, mostly reiterating his comments from Friday and Saturday. He also made it clear that his beef with the NFL has “nothing to do with race” and is all about “respect for our country and respect for our flag” during an impromptu Q&A Sunday afternoon.

It seems the big takeaway from this weekend for most professional athletes was that if Trump feels entitled to critique their profession, that opens the door for them to speak their minds on the president and the job he is doing.

There are no more lanes.

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