- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2017

Reverberations from President Trump’s fiery weekend words about the NFL and athletes protesting continued to roar through the sports world Sunday, starting across the Atlantic and London and moving to the West Coast.

Rare steps were taken during Sunday NFL broadcasts on the sidelines and in the television production trucks. Dozens of players took a knee during the national anthem, team owners found their way to the sidelines to lock arms and one team stayed off the field during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

All the activity prompted a question simplistic only in its delivery: What’s next?

Sunday’s NFL actions are expected to be followed by words Monday when 28 NBA teams hold their annual media days. Among them are the Cleveland Cavaliers, home of superstar LeBron James, who over the weekend referred to Trump as a “bum” in a tweet; the San Antonio Spurs, which are coached by Gregg Popovich, who has been highly critical of the president; and the Wizards here in Washington.

Those NBA factions follow an unique Sunday in the NFL when players, coaches and owners across the league pushed back hard against the president’s suggestion during a rowdy Friday night stump speech before his supporters players like former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick who refuse to stand for the anthem should be fired.

CBS and Fox chose to air the national anthem before games instead of being in commercial. The NFL put together an one-minute video called, “Inside these lines” which the league referred to as a “unity spot.” It aired during the national Sunday night broadcast of the game between the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in Landover. Among those in the video were Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who has been one of the NFL’s most prominent protesters this season.

Earlier in the day, several team owners came to stand on the sidelines with their players. Some players took a knee, others locked arms, a few sat during the anthem. In Detroit, singer Rico LaVelle took a knee at the end of the anthem when singing the final word, brave.

The president’s comments over the weekend were enough to push protests into Major League Baseball for the first time, where 26-year-old Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell took a knee during the anthem Saturday night. Maxwell, who is black and was born on the U.S. military installation in Wiesbaden, Germany, while his father, Bruce Jr., did a tour of duty with the U.S. Army, said he planned to continue to take a knee during the anthem.

“My decision has been coming for a long time,” Maxwell told reporters after the game. “I know I was on the fence for a long time because I know no one in baseball has ever done it. I finally got to the point where I thought the inequality of man is being discussed, and it’s being practiced from our president.

“The point of my kneeling is not to disrespect our military, it’s not to disrespect our Constitution, it’s not to disrespect this country. … My hand over my heart symbolizes the fact that I am and I’ll forever be an American citizen, and I’m more than grateful to be here. But my kneeling is what is getting the attention because I’m kneeling for the people that don’t have a voice.”

Approached by reporters Sunday, Maxwell declined to comment. Pregame, he again took a knee, placed his hand over his heart and locked in on the flag before the A’s played the Texas Rangers in Oakland.

A question moving forward is how sustainable the current momentum of sports protests is. When former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem more than a year ago, several other players eventually joined him. From there, participation in on-field protests fluctuated. NBA teams locked arms on occasion before the anthem early in the season. No one in baseball altered their approach during the anthem before Maxwell dropped to a knee Saturday night.

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Sunday on “Meet the Press” that he believes more comments from athletes will be directed at Trump.

“If the president’s going to say something condemning a person, an industry, a sport, then he’s got to be able to take the blowback that’s going to come back,” Cuban said. “So LeBron and Steph [Curry] and any athlete, any owner, it’s an open door now, and so they have every right for the same reasons to be able to say whatever’s on their mind. Now we’ll be able to see if he can take it.”

The NHL has largely stayed out of the thorny fray between sports and politics. Sunday, the Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins announced that they have accepted an invitation to attend a ceremony at the White House, but were also understanding of individual expression.

“The Pittsburgh Penguins respect the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House. We attended White House ceremonies after previous championships — touring the historic building and visiting briefly with Presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama - and have accepted an invitation to attend again this year.

“Any agreement or disagreement with a president’s politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways. However, we very much respect the rights of other individuals and groups to express themselves as they see fit.”

The weekend was spent as a prompt and ambitious reaction to the president’s words. The response will be furthered Monday when NBA players go through multiple layers of microphones and cameras. After that comes the question marks. What’s next? What will it look like? Will it last?

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