President Trump's criticism of NFL pregame protests — voiced at a political rally Friday night, and then on Twitter Saturday and Sunday morning — seems likely to create a substantial increase in such protests during Sunday's games. NFL Network reported early Sunday that Oakland's entire offensive line planned a protest during the day's last game, the Redskins-Raiders contest at FedEx Field, and other morning reports suggested an unprecedented day of demonstrations in the league.
Here's another indication: longtime Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, one of Washington's most respected and beloved players of the past two decades, said Sunday morning that if he were still in the league, he would now join in the protests.
"I was angered by President Trump's statement, because there is a racial undertone to his comments," Fletcher said on CBS Sports Network early Sunday, during one of the day's first NFL studio shows. "And the way I heard it is, you black SOB, get off the field. And that's what the players in the National Football League, 70 percent, are hearing, and that's why you're going to see more demonstrations."
Fletcher was referring to Trump's most controversial remarks on Sunday, about the relatively small number of NFL players who have knelt during the national anthem before NFL games.
"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 said. "You know, some owner is going to do that. He's going to say, 'That guy that disrespects our flag, he's fired.' And that owner, they don't know it [but] they'll be the most popular person in this country."
Fletcher spent the final seven years of his 16-year career in Washington, where he became a team captain and fan favorite. He set the NFL record for consecutive starts by a linebacker, became the fourth player in league history to play at least 250 straight games, and was named one of the league's three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which recognizes a combination of playing excellence and community service. And he often deliberately bit his tongue on divisive topics, once explaining that "as a player I never really wanted to bring unnecessary attention to our football team" and that "when you're on a team, you have to be cognizant of what you say." But Fletcher on Sunday said that this moment was different.
"If I was playing in the National Football League today, if I was in that game, I would do a demonstration," he said. "Not against the flag, but to protest the statement and the comments that were made by President Trump. This is another example of somebody trying to oppress or silence us [from] speaking out against the inequalities and injustices that are taking place in our society."
Fletcher then turned to co-panelist Amy Trask, a longtime executive with the Raiders.
"The beauty of sport is that it has the power to unite us in the manner that few things do," Trask said. "For almost 30 years, I saw in our stands fans of a multitude of races, religions, ethnicities, old, young, people of economic means, people of lesser economic means. And for that time they were in the stadium, they were united in purpose and in goal. And there was that moment in a game where we would score with no time remaining to win a game, and you would see all of those fans embrace and come together in collective ecstasy, without regard to the fact that the person they were hugging may have been of a different race, a different religion, a different gender, old, young, inner city, suburbs.
"And you know what? When people watch their team, people who do have bigoted or hateful views, and they see men of different races and religions hugging, that's a great message," Trask said. "We've got real problems in this world, we've got real problems in this country, and we need to find a way to work together collectively to have civil discourse and to address these problems, and sports can help us do that. But you know what, that was not the comment of a leader."
"It wasn't," Fletcher agreed. "You hit it on the head: where sports can bring us together, [Trump's] comments don't allow the vast majority of people to come together."