15:33, May 26 203 0 theguardian.com

2018-05-26 15:33:03
Republican lawmaker says NFL player protests are 'premised on lies'

A Republican congressman from New York on Saturday said NFL player protests over police brutality and racial injustice were “premised on lies”, and compared the action of kneeling during the playing of the national anthem to “players giving Nazi salutes” or “spewing racism”.

The remarks, by Long Island US representative Peter King, drew a furious online response.

Under pressure from Donald Trump after two seasons marked by such protests, most famously by the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the NFL on Wednesday announced a new rule which says teams will be fined if their players kneel on the sidelines or field during the playing of the anthem.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said: “We want people to be respectful of the national anthem. We want people to stand.”

He said the league had been “very sensitive on making sure that we give players choices, but we do believe that moment is an important moment and one that we are going to focus on”.

Goodell also said: “Personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room until after the anthem has been performed.”

Trump welcomed the move, telling Fox News that if players did not stand for the anthem, “maybe you shouldn’t be in the country”.

The NFL Players Association said it had not been consulted about the policy change. Many players and former players were critical, saying the NFL had infringed free speech rights protected under the first amendment to the US constitution. Exercising that right, the Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin said Trump was “an idiot. Plain and simple”.

Acting New York Jets owner Christopher Johnson told Newsday he did not like the policy.

“If somebody takes a knee,” he said, “that fine will be borne by the organisation, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest.”

Johnson is acting owner of the Jets because his brother, Woody Johnson, is Trump’s ambassador to the UK.

Trump has criticised the protesting players in harsh terms. In October his vice-president, former Indiana governor Mike Pence, staged a walkout from an Indianapolis Colts game over the issue.

Surveys have shown white NFL fans are more likely to oppose the protests while black fans are more likely to support them. On Friday, civil rights activists protested outside NFL headquarters in New York City.

On Saturday, King tweeted: “Disgraceful that [New York Jets] owner will pay fines for players who kneel for National Anthem. Encouraging a movement premised on lies vs police. Would he support all player protests? Would he pay fines of players giving Nazi salutes or spew racism?”

King also appeared to advocate a boycott of the team, writing: “It’s time to say goodbye to Jets!”

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: 'We want respect for the anthem' – video

The “movement premised on lies vs police” referred to by King appeared to be Black Lives Matter, a social justice organisation which has grown in response to shootings of unarmed African American men by police officers, often white.

King also tweeted this week about his role in the campaign for a posthumous pardon for the great black boxer Jack Johnson, which Trump granted on Thursday. The pardon was “outstanding news”, King wrote, adding that it “corrects a terrible racial injustice against 1st African-American Heavyweight Champ. Thank you POTUS!”

In Illinois, US Representative Robin Kelly – a Democrat – reportedly wrote to Chicago Bears owner Virginia Halas McCaskey to express concern about the NFL rule.

According to SBNation, Kelly wrote that “given the investment of taxpayer dollars, the NFL and its team should be held to the highest possible public standard, especially when it comes to protecting and defending the first amendment rights on players, employees, and fans”.

Kelly added: “I hope that a meeting with Mrs Halas McCaskey will constructively address player and fan concerns about free speech and feeling safe to speak out in our communities about the issue of police brutality.”

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