It was Friday when President Donald J. Trump, stumping for Alabama senatorial candidate Luther Strange, inexplicably, turned his sights on football and the National Football League.

“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 said.

Trump was, of course, referring to the protest of former San Francisco quarterback and Nevada alum Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the pre-game performance of the national anthem. That protest, which began last September, eventually spread throughout the league before settling back down to a smattering of pro players here and there.

Though, admittedly, that was before Trump opened his mouth.

In the days since his original comment (and subsequent doubling down on it), players, owners, the player’s union and even the league itself have united in firm opposition to the president. Protests ranging from linking arms to kneeling to skipping the anthem altogether have been peppered throughout the weekend’s football games. Moreover, it has publicly turned a number of Trump’s most ardent supporters in the league, men like Jaguars owner Shad Khan and Patriots owner Robert Kraft, against him — at least for now.

But even as those men who make up the NFL defied Trump’s rhetoric, the president continued to throw down the gauntlet. On Monday, as is his habit, Trump took to Twitter.

“Many people booed the players who kneeled yesterday (which was a small percentage of total). These are fans who demand respect for our Flag!” Trump tweeted. “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!”

At last, Trump cuts to the heart of the issue. In point of fact, the reason Kaepernick began protesting at all was to protest racial injustice and the rate at which American police were (and are) unjustly killing American men, often young, often black.

It is ironic then, considering the circumstance, to say that the issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is doubly ironic that a man who said “very fine people” marched at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last month is now so reticent. It was a rally that stirred the emotions of those of us in Reno when a UNR student, Peter Cvjetanovic, was pictured screaming, torch in hand, and it was a rally that stirred national furor when one woman died before the weekend was up. 

Why is it so easy for white Americans to tell black Americans, or really any disenfranchised group for that matter, to sit down and shut up? Why is it that any time these groups move to protest the injustices that often rule their lives, a majority of Americans, mostly white, unite in a chorus of, ‘I’m all for your freedom of speech, but can’t you protest some other way?’

But there is no other way, because ultimately, every way seems to be the wrong way. In 1963, when hundreds of thousands of black Americans marched on washington, Gallup found that 60 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of the march. In 1993, just 23 percent thought that an LGBT+ march on Washington would do more good than harm for the acceptance movement.

It is then no surprise that just 38 percent of Americans today approve of Kaepernick’s protest. The majority always dislikes when the minority moves to speak, moves to call out the injustice inherent in the status quo.

But at the very least, we must defend the rights of these players to speak their minds. To focus on dog whistles and on false notions of patriotism is not only disingenuous, but does nothing to address what started this all: the systemic oppression of Americans that are, save one thing, just like you and me.