The subject of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice in the United States sparked a heated debate on Wednesday night between Trump-hating liberal CNN host Don Lemon and conservative commentator Ben Ferguson.
Lemon opened the segment by first playing a clip from Fox News host Sean Hannity’s interview with the president earlier in the evening. “You cannot disrespect our country, our flag, our anthem. You cannot do that,” Trump said, noting that the NFL should have suspended former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for one game after he kneeled during the national anthem last season, two games for the second time, and the full season if he kneeled a third time.
Liberal CNN commentator Van Jones had pushed back against Trump’s comments, claiming that the athletes who are “taking a knee” do not disrespect the military, as is often projected.
“We have been trying to get this point made over and over again; they are not protesting the flag. They are not protesting the anthem. No athlete has ever said one bad thing about a soldier. They are concerned about the neighborhoods they left behind where there is still so much injustice and poverty,” Jones said.
On Wednesday, Ferguson disagreed by saying to Lemon that people are not going to have a consensus about the proper way to protest or handle racial injustice because of their “flat-out disrespect” of the American flag. Lemon responded to the comment by claiming that nobody saw it as a protest of the flag, or being disrespectful toward the flag until Trump “made it into an issue.”
But Ferguson pointed out that the president himself was being protested. “A lot of the players also didn’t protest until they started to protest Donald Trump. You had whole teams stay in the locker room. You had whole teams that had never come out before,” he said.
Asking Ferguson why he and others are “forcing patriotism” on Americans, Ferguson emphasized that no one is arguing against people having the right to protest.
The volley of words became more and more aggressive as the two disagreed over what is considered appropriate behavior at a football game.
“I am in a bar almost every weekend during football season having wings, and beer and everybody is chugging beers, and I look around and all these people who are screaming about people not standing,” Lemon said.
Ferguson noted that it’s different when people are at the game, and said the players need to stand to “honor America.” Lemon responded by observing that each game consists of two American teams and that it’s not as if “we’re playing some international country.”
Ferguson pushed Lemon’s buttons when he cracked, “Don, you are smarter than this,” in response to his comments that essentially conveyed the anthem isn’t all that important.
“No, don’t tell me, ‘I’m smarter this,'” Lemon shot back, before resorting to colorful language to get his point across, nearly five-and-a-half minutes into the segment. (See video below; Lemon begins swearing around the 5:28 mark.)
“Yes, I’m smarter than the bullshit answer that you’re giving!” Lemon shouted, before doubling down on his curse-filled rant.
Ferguson then pointed out to Lemon that his “arrogance” and the “lack of respect” he shows the American flag reflects on why so many Americans disagree with him.
On Tuesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent an email to all NFL executives confirming that a rule change would be discussed and that a vote on the issue would be considered as early as next week. He also praised them for their willingness to engage in dialogue but said their anthem protests were becoming barriers to conversation.
“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem,” Goodell wrote. “It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us.”
The NFL sent out a message the next day clarifying that Goodell was not “demanding” all players stand, but that the topic would be addressed at the league’s upcoming owners’ meeting.
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