LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The NFL this past week announced a ban on players kneeling in protest during the playing of the national anthem. If they choose not to stand, players may stay in the locker room. But if they violate the new rule, the team will be fined. Let's bring in Howard Bryant, author of the book "The Heritage: Black Athletes, A Divided America, And The Politics Of Patriotism." Thanks for joining us.
HOWARD BRYANT: Hi, Lulu. How are you?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm good. How are the players that you're talking to reacting to the stand that the NFL's taken?
BRYANT: Well, I think they've taken the position that the NFL has decided to fully engage with this culture war initiated by the president when he first attacked the NFL players back in September. One of the questions of the book that I was asking is, who gets to be the patriot? And when the president first called the players unpatriotic, then said that they shouldn't have jobs, now he's even saying that dissenting players maybe shouldn't even be in the country. And that the NFL is going along with it, as well, I think this has really reignited some really bad blood between the players and the owners.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And how is that manifesting itself? I mean, what conversations are the players having, and what can they actually do?
BRYANT: I think that the players believed after Colin Kaepernick wasn't signed last season that they had still reached some sort of...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Kaepernick, of course, started this whole taking the knee.
BRYANT: Back in 2016. That's right. And that they had agreed with the owners to then a $90 million partnership to fight social justice. So I think they had believed that they had reached an accommodation. Now we're seeing that that accommodation isn't such an accommodation. And I think the players are trying to strategize with their union to figure out just what's going to happen.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hmm. That looks like it's setting up a real confrontation between primarily, you know, African-American players and - the owners of these teams are white, predominantly, which is really the dynamic that's at play here. I mean, do you think that that's at the heart of this, that these owners and these players just see things fundamentally differently?
BRYANT: Well, it is seen as a hostile act by the players. There's no question about that. But one of the things, Lulu, that does get me about this is that we talk so much about division, but one of the things that has been very clear - one of the unifying themes - is the fact that none of the veterans that this is supposedly about - even though the players are fighting against police brutality - nobody wants to see the flag or the national anthem weaponized. They don't want to see citizenship weaponized. And the veterans that I've spoken with do not want to be used as commercial props. And yet sports is doing both. And so it's sort of ironic in a way that all of this patriotism and nationalism was supposedly brought to bring people together post-9/11, and it's been the most divisive thing in America, which is a very strange thing to be talking about on Memorial Day weekend.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you explain that term weaponizing patriotism? Because it's come up a lot, and you just used it again. What should we understand when we hear that?
BRYANT: Well, I think the players do not want their citizenship questioned. What they're doing in this protest is the ultimate example of citizenship. But instead, what we've seen in sports over the last couple of years now is to paint the players as unpatriotic instead of thinking about their reasoning, which is police misconduct and about supporting some of the people who don't have a lot of power in our country. It's been directed toward the flag as if the players don't care about their country when, actually, they do. For how many decades did we say that we were tired of these athletes being so rich and so detached? Now they're involved, and we're calling them unpatriotic. That's one of the great collisions about this.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Howard Bryant, author of "The Heritage" and senior writer for espn.com and ESPN The Magazine. Thank you so much.
BRYANT: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.
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