Baltimore Ravens tight end Ben Watson believes President Trump made the NFL’s anthem situation worse when he blasted protesting players at a political rally last September in Alabama.
In a fiery speech, President Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b**ch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!”
Watson was with his Baltimore Ravens teammates in London on September 24, 2017, preparing to play the Jacksonville Jaguars, when they became aware of Trump’s comments.
“As we were several hours ahead of home it was late in the evening before we heard the news about the president’s comments,” Watson wrote on his Facebook page on May 27. “Though in hindsight I should not have been, at that moment I was shocked. I could not believe the President of the United States, a man collectively elected by the American people, would utter those insulting words about a private citizen, especially one that had not only broken no laws but was peacefully exercising his First Amendment rights within them.”
Some constitutional scholars will argue that kneeling during the anthem, while at work, isn’t a First Amendment right.
“The First Amendment doesn’t apply to private institutions,” Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of Cal-Berkeley Law School told the Washington Post. “Private employers can fire employees for their speech without having to worry about the First Amendment.”
Before Trump’s speech in Alabama where he made the “son of a b**ch” comment, Watson felt the anthem protests, which started in the summer of 2016 as a statement against police brutality, were dying down.
“Before [the speech], for all the ire they drew, participation in protests by NFL players during the playing of the national anthem was not wide spread,” Watson wrote. “But as we sat in meetings and chapel early Sunday morning the President’s words left none unaffected. Indeed, the words of the commander in chief have that type power. Anger, fear, disappointment and sadness were evidenced by the tears and quivering voices of grown men grappling with the implications of these words for themselves and their families and the realization of an America that seemed at least in that moment to be so adamantly against all of us.”
Several Ravens knelt during the anthem in London, and team President Dick Cass felt this contributed to empty seats at Baltimore home games that followed.
Watson, a 14-year NFL veteran, who has written several books, feels after Trump’s remarks, “a new wave of protests had begun.”
Watson is disappointed in Trump’s handling of the anthem issue.
“Instead of using his power and position to be a reconciliatory uniting force to mend what has for so long been broken the President has intentionally used his pulpit to drive the wedge further,” Watson wrote, “Following every tweet and statement we have been compelled to choose a side, in what should not even be a debate, simply because of the party we vote for, the shade of our skin or the neighborhood in which we were raised. Each time we blindly, even subconsciously choose a side our ears become increasingly deaf, our hearts hardened and our eyes more blind to the humanity of the other side, scorning the path to empathy and settling for hostility and indifference.”
Watson feels that the NFL’s recent decision to force players to stand on the sideline during the anthem, or stay in the locker room until it’s over, was a “capitulation” to Trump.
“It has been the unfettered venomous attacks from the most powerful office in our republic that has widened the divide, stifled attempts at understanding and in a twist of irony led to the recent capitulation of several NFL owners to move from tepid support to creating a new policy forcing players and personnel present on the sidelines in pregame to stand,” wrote Watson.
Watson, a devout Christian, believes that despite the rampant criticism of the NFL protest movement, players will continue to fight for what they believe is right.
“The fallout will continue but of one thing I am sure,” Watson concluded on his Facebook post. “I’ve been an NFL player long enough to know that nothing will distract, inhibit or discourage those who desire to be engaged, active and focused on the betterment of their country from continuing to do so. Players caring about their communities is not a two-year old phenomenon.”