WASHINGTON – Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said President Trump’s criticism of NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem is “beneath the depths” of the presidency.
“I could not believe what I heard,” Lewis told reporters during a gun violence prevention press conference outside of the Capitol today. “He went to Alabama, my native state. He went to Huntsville, Alabama, to campaign for someone running for the United States Senate and he spoke these words. He said what he said about these men, mostly black men but also white men.”
“The use of the term SOB is beneath – should be beneath the depths of the president of the United States,” Lewis added.
During the rally for Alabama GOP Sen. Luther Strange, Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired’?”
Trump also suggested fans boycott the league by leaving the stadium if NFL players kneel during the National Anthem.
“The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium,” he said. “I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway.”
Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) was asked for her view of the president’s call for fans to walk out of NFL games.
“I don’t know how many fans are going to listen to him, but also I think he’s doing it as a distraction. It seems that whenever there’s tough issues or tough votes coming back into Congress – when his kitchen gets hot, he throws a distraction somewhere else,” Kelly replied.
Kelly also said kneeling in protest during the National Anthem is not disrespectful to the flag.
“I think it was incredibly insensitive what [Trump] said, and people are forgetting why Colin Kaepernick did it from the beginning. It was not to be disrespectful of the flag or of America. It was about First Amendment rights and also our people being killed in the streets, black and brown, and we need to do something about it,” she said.
“That was bringing attention to the matter, and I don’t feel like he was disrespectful,” the congresswoman added. “I feel like this president is disrespectful.”
Following the press conference, Lewis, a “Big Six” veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, said he was “very moved” by the NFL players who protested by taking a knee, linking arms or staying in the locker room during the National Anthem after Trump’s comments.
“I was very moved by the players, the coaches, the owners who stood with the players, they stood with these young men. I’ve said over and over again when we see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to say something,” he said. “By standing or by kneeling, by holding hands, locking arms, it sent a message. They believe in the goodness of America. They believe in the freedom of people to speak up and speak out. That’s what we did in the ’60s. I think President Trump needs to learn the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement.”
Lewis said Trump should not have suggested fans boycott the NFL because everyone has the right to protest.
“Well, you know, people have said what they want to say, but I don’t think the president of the United States or anyone should be suggesting that because people are engaged in nonviolent protests – standing up, sitting down, kneeling down,” the congressman told reporters. “Everybody has the right to protest.”