WASHINGTON — “We stand together for freedom. We stand together for patriotism. And we proudly stand for our glorious nation under God,” President Donald Trump said from his lectern Tuesday afternoon before wading down a path decked in American flags.
This was a familiar tone from the White House. Truly, it could have been any day. The presidential outlook was that the “Star Spangled Banner” must be honored, and Americans should stand for White America’s original song. A presidential decree, especially in the age of Trumpian authoritarianism, was to be respected. This day wasn’t to prop up protesting athletes, rather, it was made for rebuke.
There has been a nearly unbroken streak of politicians using black athletes to push policy or political agendas. Joe Louis was the son of an Alabama sharecropper, a heavy-handed pugilist. In 1940 he endorsed GOP front man Wendell Wilkie, even having the campaign craft buttons for black voters reading “Joe and I for Wilkie.” Jesse Owens was born to those same Alabamian fields. By 1936 he was sprinting against German athletes, fighting Hitler’s Germany and became an American hero, though often clashing with Jackie Robinson about their role in the Civil Rights movement.
The fanciful dream that politics have never entered the realm of sports is just that — fictive, imaginary. That has been proven yet again now, as the president uses all of his platform and power to strike down protest, disinviting Philly’s football champions from his gates, and banishing a notion that America would endorse such dissent.
Trump cancelled a lawn party that was likely to be imbued with the fiery spirit Philadelphia often brings, to substitute residents for constituents, fans for interns. It’s seen as a powerful move only to the naive. The Eagles weren’t even mentioned in the president’s four-minute speech, the catalyst that brought us here. He visibly stumbled over the words of his precious anthem and “God Bless America,” unable to properly perform his performative version of patriotism.
It is apparent that this was an organized sham. To stand next to a figure like Trump on the South Lawn is to dishonor the very people, the unprivileged and oppressed, that athletes have traded their careers for. Many said the lawn was filled with underlings from the White House and staffers from the Republican National Committee, noting that it’d be odd for football fans to be decked out exclusively in Washington’s finest suits. Typically during events celebrating athletic champions, one sees some team paraphernalia.
The point was to rebuke the protesting athlete’s efforts. The president wanted to unnecessarily gloat and put forth a mandated national thinking after singing to God and having him bless America. He wanted to tout his steady dismissal of the beautiful, black protest that has overtaken this land. Such a flaunt can only be seen as laughable.
What is more important than the manipulation of the day are the events that preceded it. The president and the White House advised and lobbied for owners to use their power to vote against protest. The same actors were willing to bend the law in tax policy to punish athletic objectors. His perch is crating a massive firefight against athletes and owners unwilling to tell him such ventures reek of racism.
The face of such pomposity deserves a righteous reaction — not commonplace answers. War has been declared here, and our basketball and football stars are being pitted against Americans, and in the middle there is a president, using the best of his policy and political wherewithal to attack their might.
Regardless of what is said moving forward, this reality shall be cemented. It’s been written by the president’s own hand to spite the men who are willing to throw rocks at his impervious house. The president will stage a show, and if you aren’t invited, it is nearly impossible to amass demonstrable revolt from outside his gates.
The event was ultimately a mostly white, private party for Washington’s seemingly elite. People were asked if they were fans, and they offered confused looks. People were asked who Philly’s quarterbacks were, and they shot back blanks. At least some Malvern Prep boys did interviews with Barstool. Ah, the parody is complete.
The president finished and ignored questions from waiting reporters, instead shaking hands of constituents in awe of his might. Why answer questions when his message was complete, his stance overt? The audacity to not care about offending or lying was rendered endearing by those cheering him on.
The streets in front of the White House cleared of performers during the display. For minutes it was only Trump’s voice, along with the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America”. The entire scene was striking. Why would the most powerful man in the world —as Puerto Rico melts, as trade agreements grow riskier, as the world waits on his call — force policy down the throats of players protesting for the black and brown Americans who are regularly murdered with the force of the state?
The understanding must be that this will not end. The presidency will continue its attack on the soul of the black athlete. Trump will always attack black athletes because they pose a threat to his form of white power. To strike back, to scold men he believes to be uppity and selfish, is to reassure his base.
Athletes do not have to visit the White House. A new precedent has been set. If black athletes don’t want to shake the hand of white supremacy, the presidency will move on, establish a world without the athlete’s presence, send propaganda to dismantle their vaunted status, and create a day where only his logic reigns.