One of America's fiercest culture warriors right now is President Trump, and one of his pet conflicts at the moment is with NFL players protesting racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem.
But while he appears to be winning some battles in that war, it's not over — and in fact may be expanding.
It's only Wednesday but there have been three notable events in it already this week:
- Vice President Pence was criticized for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money on a trip to Indianapolis, where he walked out of a Colts-49ers game when some players knelt during the anthem.
- ESPN suspended SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill for tweeting that those dissatisfied with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones threatening to bench players who participated in the protest would see changes if they boycotted the team's advertisers.
- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent NFL owners a letter Tuesday saying he believes NFL players should stand during the national anthem and articulating his lack of support for football players kneeling during it.
Trump noted or took credit for each of those events in tweets.
It remains to be seen how the players will respond to Goodell's letter. The next NFL game is Thursday night between the Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers in Charlotte. Even if fewer NFL players take a knee, the protest has spread to other sports leagues.
J.T. Brown, a member of the National Hockey League's Tampa Bay Lightning, raised his fist during the national anthem on Saturday, a move that mimicked the iconic protest of American track athletes at the 1968 Olympics.
Brown, who is the son of a former NFL player, said he got death threats after the protest.
Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly told The Post that Brown's actions were “respectable” and that he is glad that he did it.
“He made sure to make the point that it’s not disrespecting the flag and making sure everyone knew his stance and making sure the point stayed the point rather than people straying away from what it really is,” said Smith-Pelly, who said he's considered joining the protest. “I thought he did a great job. I reached out to him and told him I loved what he did. I’m glad he did it.”
Smith-Pelly did not protest during the anthem before the Capitals game on Monday.
This isn't the first time that the anthem protests crossed into a league known for its more conservative fan base. Last month, Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first Major League Baseball player to participate in the protest.
“I’m kneeling,” Maxwell told reporters after his first anthem protest, “for the people who don’t have a voice.”
U.S. soccer start Megan Rapinoe knelt last year to show support for Colin Kaepernick, who started the NFL protests to raise awareness of racial injustice, and told ESPN that “we need a more substantive conversation around race relations and the way people of color are treated.”
Players' protests are also going beyond the professional ranks.
Berwick High School cornerback Keyon Singleton knelt during “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a game to protest “racial inequality” and the third verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which mentions “the hireling and slave,” a reference, academics say, to runaway slaves who joined British ranks in the War of 1812 and of whom author Francis Scott Key was no great fan.
And Albright College quarterback Gyree Durante was dismissed for kneeling during the national anthem saying “at some point in life, there's going to be a time when you've got to take a stand.”
Nearly half — 49 percent — of Americans surveyed by CNN said that the athletes were taking the wrong action, but most people believe that Trump's response, which includes suggesting that athletes be fired for their actions, was inappropriate, according to a HuffPost poll.
For a president whose administration is in chaos even according to members of his own party, keeping support from his base seems to be crucial. But continuing to attack Americans for expressing one of the privileges that comes with citizenship could continue to hurt him with demographics that have long been unsupportive of his politics.
Despite Trump continuing to suggest that the protests disrespect the flag, black Americans — a group that overwhelmingly voted against him in 2016 and continues to give him low approval markings — disagree.
Only 11 percent of black respondents agree with Trump about the reasons for the protests, according to a CBS/YouGov poll with a large majority — 88 percent — acknowledging what Kaepernick originally claimed: The protests are aimed at bringing attention to unfair policing.