One of President Donald Trump’s evangelical advisers said NFL players who take a knee in protest during the national anthem should be counting their lucky stars that they’re not being shot in the head — a fate he said would certainly befall them if they lived in North Korea.
Robert Jeffress, the controversial pastor of First Baptist Dallas and a member of President Trump’s informal evangelical advisory council, made the comments in an appearance on Fox News “Fox and Friends” on Monday night, where the hosts were discussing Trump’s anger with NFL players and other athletes who have been kneeling during the national anthem to protest social and racial injustice in the United States.
More than 200 players chose not to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” during Sunday games, many locking arms with teammates and coaches in a display of solidarity.
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Trump has focused on the patriotic aspect of the silent protests, calling the player’s act of taking a knee “total disrespect” — an opinion shared by Jeffress.
“I think what these players are doing is absolutely wrong,” Jeffress said. “These players ought to be thanking god that they live in a country where they’re not only free to earn millions of dollars every year, but they're also free from the worry of being shot in the head for taking the knee like they would be if they were in North Korea.”
Jeffress said there is a “better way to protest social injustice without disrespecting our country,” though he didn’t say what that way might be. He also said “tens of millions of Americans agree with President Trump” when he calls the acts of protests by players “disrespectful,” though he didn’t provide any supporting evidence of this.
“I know this president. President Trump is not a racist. For President Trump this is not about race, this is about respect of country,” Jeffress said.
Both the Texas pastor and President Trump have been known to make inflammatory comments about race in the past: Following a white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia this summer, Trump failed to condemn neo-Nazi ralliers, going so far as to call some “very good people.” Jeffress stood behind Trump’s comments.
While Trump has repeatedly argued “the issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our country, flag and national anthem,” some have argued Trump’s response to the NFL players’ silent protests are indeed racially charged.
The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 25, 2017
As a recent Washington Post opinion piece put it, “Trump’s problem isn’t with athletes being political. It’s with athletes speaking out about racism.”