The Current

'If we have to lose NFL football to address racism in America, that's what we need to do'

"I'm not concerned if people get so upset with people protesting racism in America that they stop watching football because racism existed before American football."
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan is seen locking arms with some players, while others kneel down during the playing of the U.S. national anthem before taking on the Baltimore Ravens, Sept 26. (Tim Ireland/The Associated Press)

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On Sept. 24, NFL players across the league protested in games in solidarity — falling on their knees, locking arms, or even refusing to take the field during "The Star-Spangled Banner." 

The protests have even spread to Major League Baseball and the Canadian Football League.   

But not everyone is in support of the "take a knee movement."

The U.S. president Donald Trump launched a blistering offensive against it. 

Suddenly, America's most popular sport has become a different sort of battlefield, and another source of division in the U.S. 

Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman suggests if 200 or more football players continue to protest and take a knee every weekend, "it will ruin NFL football for millions and millions of Americans."

He argues that players took to the knee movement on Sunday because Trump spoke, not because of oppression.

"If we have to lose NFL football to address racism in America, that's what we need to do," says Washington Post reporter Eugene Scott, adding he grew up in a Washington Redskins household.

"I'm not concerned if people get so upset with people protesting racism in America that they stop watching football because racism existed before American football. It exists now, and if it exists after it ends, we have way bigger problems than how someone feels about how athletes respond to systemic racism," Scott tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Reactions to Trump's anti protest tweets

5 years ago
Duration 0:41
Stephen Curry, Steve Kerr and Stevie Wonder react to Donald Trump's tweets about athletes who refuse to visit the White House, and those that protest during National Anthems.

Walsh says that Americans boycotting the NFL "has nothing do with race."

"I can guarantee you if this past Sunday, 300 primarily white football players took a knee, millions of Americans would still be upset with the NFL and would still be boycotting," Walsh says.

"We don't give a darn what colour these players are, we just want them to play football. "

Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman, says if the 'take the knee' protest continues, 'it will ruin NFL football for millions and millions of Americans.' (Jeffrey T. Barnes/The Associated Press)

American history professor Theresa Runstedtler disagrees and says denying the context of race "is willfully closing your eyes to the reality."

"I mean the fact is, and we can't erase this, that the players are largely black in this league."

Runstedtler adds the assumption the protest is about disrespecting the flag means it's seen as a "neutral symbol."

"The flag itself does not necessarily represent good, happy things for many black and brown people in the United States. It's also a symbol of exclusion, of white control. I mean under the flag we didn't have, at least in theory, full citizenship rights for African-Americans until the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s," she explains.

"We had slavery until 1865 under the flag."

For those who want the knee movement to end, Scott offers a solution.

"Why not just talk about the issue of racism as opposed to focusing on the protests? Like, why not address the issue that they've brought to the table because that will stop the protests."

Listen to the full segment near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Samira Mohyeddin, Ashley Mak and Halifax network producer Mary-Catherine McIntosh.

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