By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The ongoing battle between some NFL players and the president of the United States took another bizarre turn on Friday morning.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, President Donald Trump essentially challenged the players who have taken a knee in protest during the national anthem to provide him with a list of people who have been mistreated by America’s criminal justice system.
“I am going to ask all of those people to recommend to me — because that’s what they’re protesting — people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system. And I understand that,” Trump said. “And I’m going to ask them to recommend to me people that were unfairly treated — friends of theirs or people that they know about — and I’m going to take a look at those applications. And if I find — and my committee finds — that they’re unfairly treated, then we will pardon them or at least let them out.”
The comment is just the latest development in what has essentially been a war of words that has been boiling since September, when Trump suggested that NFL owners should say “get that son of a bitch off the field right now” to any player who took a knee during the national anthem. The issue has been brought back to the forefront this week, when Trump canceled the Eagles’ celebratory trip to the White House this week and alleged that the Eagles “disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country.”
Fox News fanned the flames by showing pictures of Eagles players kneeling in prayer — pictures that weren’t taken during the performance of the national anthem — prompting player backlash and an official apology.
In reality, Eagles players did not kneel during the national anthem last season. The team did, however, employ a number of outspoken activists, including Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long.
Jenkins in particular fought back against the negative wave of media attention by bringing poster boards to his locker while reporters were present this week. Those posters read:
“You Aren’t Listening”
“More than 60% of people in prison are people of color”
“Nearly 200,000 juveniles enter the adult criminal system each year, most for non-violent crimes”
“In 2018, 439 people shot and killed by police (thus far). 8% of U.S. Population = African-American males. 25 % of people shot by police = African-American males”
“TRUE PATRIOTS. Anquan Boldin, Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Devin McCourty, Josh Norman, Chris Long, Torrey Smith, Rodney McLeod, Michael Bennett, Ben Watson, DeMario Davis, Carl Davis, Kelvin Beachum, Matt Slater, Josh McCown, Duron Harmon, Johnson Bademosi, etc.”
“Colin Kaepernick gave $1 million to charity”
“Chris Long gave his entire year’s salary to educational initiatives”
“Ben Watson and DeMario Davis helped push through LA House Bill 265, restoring voting rights for returning citizens”
“Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Matt Slater and Johnson Bademosi lobbied to raise the age from 7 to 12 entering the criminal justice system”
“Any given night 500,000 sit in jail. Convicted? No. Too poor? Yes. #EndCashBail”
Jenkins also released a statement which noted several initiatives Eagles players have taken to better their communities and also accused the White House of lying about the Eagles’ perceived patriotism.
“The decision was made to lie, and paint the picture that these players are anti-America, anti-flag and anti-military,” Jenkins said. “We will continue to fight for impacted citizens and give a voice to those who never had one.”
The NFLPA — the union of the players — took a similar path this week, listing in a thread on Twitter numerous acts of charity and community work in which players engage on a regular basis.
Friday’s news comes one day after it was reported that Colin Kaepernick, as part of his collusion case against the NFL, will seek subpoenas to speak to both Trump and vice president Mike Pence.
Trump’s call for names of those perceived to have been mistreated by the justice system comes just days after the president commuted the prison sentence of Alice Johnson, a decision he made after meeting with reality star Kim Kardashian at the White House last week. The Washington Post’s Robert Costa, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker led their Johnson story with this assertion: “President Trump has become fixated on his ability to issue pardons.”
Trump also issued a posthumous pardon of former boxer Jack Johnson in recent weeks, a decision he made after meeting with actor Sylvester Stallone on the matter.
Though Trump offered to hear from players, he did so after expressing his opinion on players who have used the playing of the national anthem as the window to protest perceived mistreatment of people of color by police.
“You have a lot of people in the NFL in particular but in sports leagues [as well], they’re not proud enough to stand for our national anthem. I don’t like that,” Trump said. “What I’m going to do is I’m going to say to them, instead of talk — it’s all talk, talk, talk — we have a great country, you should stand for our national anthem. You shouldn’t go in a locker room when our national anthem is played.”
Trump’s opinion has been stated numerous times, but his recent history would seemingly open an opportunity for NFL players to actually have the ear of the president for perhaps the first real time.