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Horowitz: The Divider in Chief Strikes Again

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Rob Horowitz

Two-in-three Americans think that Donald Trump has done more to divide the country than unite it, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll.  And this poll was taken before President Trump called on the African-American professional football players who kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality and discrimination to be fired at a rally in Alabama and followed up it up by continued attacks on twitter all weekend, including calling on fans to boycott the games. 

Before Trump launched his vicious attacks, expressing far more outrage about the non-violent actions of former San Francisco Forty-Niners Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and several other players who joined him than he could ever muster for criticizing the violent actions of Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members in Charlottesville, only a small number of NFL players were refusing to stand for the National Anthem. But this weekend, not only did several teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, decide to not come out of the locker room until after the anthem, many more players kneeled to express their disapproval of the President’s divisive remarks. Expressing solidarity with their teammates who decided to ‘take a knee’ during the anthem, on most teams all the players and coaches, sometimes joined by the owners, locked arms.

It is the case that most Americans believe that all the players should stand for the national anthem and some fans are certainly put off when a player doesn’t, no matter how good his reasons may be.   Simply as a matter of political strategy, I believe it is ill-advised, making to more difficult to persuade people who might have been open to your point-of-view otherwise of the merits of your cause. 

 If the President wanted to make a positive contribution to the dialogue, he could have expressed his opposition to kneeling during the national anthem, while acknowledging that this nation still has a ways to go before realizing the aspirational goals proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  But instead of using measured tones that captured the complexity of the issue and could have served to unite us, he chose once again to divide us through cheap applause lines aimed at exploiting racial resentments.

It was encouraging to see the nearly unanimous strong response against President’s Trump’s bombastic divisiveness from the owners, players, and coaches in the National Football League and the rest of the sports world. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a friend and supporter of the President, said, “I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday." Yesterday Tom Brady who has always shied away from commenting on politics and is also close to President Trump, joined his owner, saying, "I certainly disagree with what he said. I thought it was just divisive."

I close with the apt words of Bill Bradley, former US Senator, NBA Champion, and Basketball Hall of Famer who issued a statement yesterday reminding us of the unique role sports plays in uniting and bringing out the best in us. According to Bradley, this makes Trump’s comments all the more problematic:

"My entire life has been founded on the knowledge that sports are a model of what's best about America and about humanity: a model of discipline, aspiration, selflessness, and excellence.Those who would denigrate those values, who would use our shared love of the game to divide us, show a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes us great as a country, and as human beings -- not to mention a fundamental understanding of what sports is actually about."

"So many of us have gotten up before dawn for early morning practices, we've driven hours to our kids' games, and we've gone hoarse cheering for our favorite teams, all because we love these games that push us to be better, and that connects us in a way unlike any other to our teammates, neighbors, and fellow Americans. I'm calling on everyone who has ever been a fan or a player, as a kid or as an adult, to affirm our shared values and to reject the President's comments in no uncertain terms. It's time to show up, united and cheering together and for one another, at the arenas and stadiums where our common love of the game and for our country takes flight."

 Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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