Ben Carson said Sunday that if National Football League players would make clear that their kneeling protests were in the name of police brutality and not meant as any disrespect to the nation’s military or the flag, there would be greater understanding and less backlash against them.
But despite the HUD secretary’s comments, NFL players have made that point over and over again in the years since then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the national anthem protests.
“My personal feeling is, if those players were to come out and say, we love our nation, we are patriots, we love our flag, we honor the memory of those who died to give us our freedom, but we are protesting some of the brutality that has occurred, and that’s why we’re doing this, I think it would solve the problem,” Carson told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And I suggest that they do that.”
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Carson said that controversy involving the kneeling protests amounted to “two people in a vehement argument” talking past one another.
The kneeling movement, which began in the 2016 pre-season, began with Kaepernick sitting down during the national anthem. He switched to kneeling after speaking with former Army Green Beret and NFL long snapper Nate Boyer, who said kneeling was a better way to present the message without disrespecting the military or flag.
Since then, NFL players, including Kaepernick, have repeatedly made clear the protests are meant as no disrespect to the military, but to highlight police brutality.
“We hate that people are going to see it that we don’t respect the military, the men and women that are braver than us that go and put their life on the line,” NFL defensive back Devin McCourty said in 2017 after President Donald Trump blasted those who kneeled. “But we just wanted to send a message of unity and being together, and not standing for the disrespect…all of us want to send a message of unity, not just as a team but a fraternity of NFL players.”
“I want to get one thing clear,” then-NFL defensive lineman Julius Peppers said in 2017. “This was not about disrespecting the military, disrespecting the flag, police, first responders, none of that.”
Carson’s comments come after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday apologized to players for not listening to their concerns regarding police brutality sooner.
“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” he said. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all players to speak out and peacefully protest.”
Meanwhile, Trump last week said New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees should not have apologized for his anti-kneeling comments, saying, “We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart,” adding, “NO KNEELING!”
Brees responded to Trump in an Instagram post, saying he now realized “this is not an issue about the American flag” and “has never been.”
“We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform,” he said.
Kneeling has been a visible element of the protests following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, with instances of protesters getting police to take knees going viral online.
The president’s campaign sent out an anti-kneeling email to supporters Saturday. On Sunday, Trump retweeted a photo showing former Vice President Joe Biden taking a knee that read: “Cowards kneel.”