President Trump got to combine three of his passions on Monday night — tweeting, attacking the media, and dragging out unnecessary controversies — when CNN reported that his chief of staff, John Kelly, is “not pleased” with the uproar over his attack on football players who protest by kneeling during the national anthem.
The report said Kelly has voiced his concerns about the issue to the president. But the lifelong Marine, whose son Robert Michael Kelly was killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2010, also told CNN that he’s “appalled” by what he sees as the players’ lack of respect for the flag and national anthem.
“I believe every American, when the national anthem is played, should cover their hearts and think about all the men and women who have been maimed and killed,” Kelly said. “Every American should stand up and think for three lousy minutes.”
Earlier in the day White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president’s football tirade, which started on Friday when he said at a rally that fans should leave a game if players take a knee. During the previous weekend’s games, fewer than ten players had protested during the national anthem. Following Trump’s remarks, more than 100 players and even 11 owners had joined the demonstration.
Thanks to Trump, the meaning of the protest has shifted in recent days. While former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee last year to protest police brutality, it was unclear if those demonstrating over the weekend were registering their opposition to racism, their support for First Amendment rights, their disdain for Trump, or their support for the NFL (Trump also complained on Friday that the game is becoming insufficiently violent).
Whatever the intent, the protests continued on Monday night. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones — who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee — joined his team’s protest, which was planned during a series of meetings between coaches and players over the past two days. Before the anthem, Jones, the coaching staff, and the players locked arms and took a knee. Then with their arms still interlocked, they stood up for the anthem.
Arizona Cardinals players linked arms during the anthem as well, but they did not take a knee. National anthem singer Jordin Sparks registered her views by writing a Bible verse on her hand:
Some in the crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, booed at the Cowboys’ display, though it didn’t take place during the singing of the anthem.
The next NFL game is on Thursday, when the Chicago Bears play the Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin. Chicago players linked arms but remained standing during Sunday’s game; Green Bay did the same, and three of their players sat down during the anthem.
It seems likely that Trump will continue pushing the issue over the next two days, as Politico reports that he sees the controversy as a way to reconnect with his base. “He knows it’ll get people stirred up and talking about it,” a senior administration official said.