President Trump called on NFL owners to fire players who kneel during the national anthem, during a rambling speech in Alabama Sept. 22. (Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

If you know me, you know I’m not a big sports fan. But President Trump’s deplorable attacks against the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech have made me a fanatic for Stephen Curry and Colin Kaepernick, the National Basketball Association and the National Football League.

By now you are well aware of Trump’s attacks. His foul-mouthed hit Friday on Kaepernick’s taking a knee during the national anthem to protest the treatment of African Americans at the hands of police. His juvenile disinvitation of basketball champions the Golden State Warriors because of Curry’s stated disinterest in making the traditional trip to the White House.

And as outrageous as Trump’s words and actions are, the reaction of the sports world is most heartening. The Golden State Warriors took the presidential diss in stride to announce that the team would still come to Washington. But the players will do something the president refuses to do. “In lieu of a visit to the White House,” the team announced Saturday, “we have decided that we’ll 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.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell refused to remain silent in the face of Trump’s tantrum. “The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture,” he said Saturday. “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.” Even Robert Kraft, the Trump-supporting owner of the New England Patriots, said in a statement he was “deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the president on Friday.”

Players from several NFL teams protested President Trump's recent comments before and during the national anthem on game day Sunday. (Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

From London to Boston to Oakland, athletes took a knee or locked arms in response to ignorant hectoring from Trump. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans stayed in their locker rooms during the national anthem before their respective games on Sunday. Whether taking a knee or standing while putting a hand on a teammate kneeling in protest, these athletes are filling the moral chasm created by a president whose sympathy and empathy are reserved for the “very fine people” among the white supremacists, Nazis and otherwise bigoted racists marching unmasked in Charlottesville.

Let’s not forget why Kaepernick kicked all this off in the first place. Here’s what the still-out-of-work former San Francisco 49er told the media in August 2016 when he was still playing for the team.

I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.

This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.

It’s something that can unify this team. It’s something that can unify this country. If we have these real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people. If we have these conversations, there’s a better understanding of where both sides are coming from.

I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.

Those who argue that doing any of this plays into Trump’s hands politically are flat-out wrong. That’s a demand that every American remain silent as rights they revere and rely on are chipped away by the creeping normalization of the reprehensible by this president. By that logic, fighting against injustice would be never okay.


The San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, left, and Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry. (AP photos)

Political considerations must take a backseat when character is at stake, when matters of conscience come into play, when standing up for one’s beliefs is paramount. By speaking out, by taking a knee, by not bowing or buckling to pressure from as high as the Oval Office, Kaepernick and those now joining him are showing the power of our Constitution and the promise of our nation. They neither need nor deserve lectures on patriotism. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are what make America great.

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