Sports figures praise Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke for thoughtful protest response

A video of Beto O’Rourke, who is currently a U.S. Representative for Texas’ 16th District but is trying to unseat Senator Ted Cruz, has gone viral since it was posted by NowThis on social media on Tuesday night.

In it, O’Rourke, speaking at a recent town hall event to speak with voters, is asked about the peaceful protests by NFL players and other athletes during the playing of the anthem. The questioner said he finds it “incredibly frustrating” that people are ok with the kneeling.

‘I can think of nothing more American’

After acknowledging American service members who are still in places like Afghanistan and thanking those in attendance who had served or are still serving, O’Rourke gave something of a masterclass in how to deal with a tough issue. He didn’t speak down to the questioner, he wasn’t critical of those who disagree; he simply laid out the facts and history as they pertain to peaceful protest in pursuit of human rights.

Beto O’Rourke drew praise from sports figures for his measured thoughts on protesting NFL players. (AP)
Beto O’Rourke drew praise from sports figures for his measured thoughts on protesting NFL players. (AP)

“My short answer is no; I don’t think it’s disrespectful,” O’Rourke said, drawing applause and cheers of appreciation.

Here’s my longer answer but I’m gonna try to make sure that I get this right because I think it’s a really important question. And reasonable people can disagree on this issue. Let’s begin there. And it makes them no less American to come down on a different conclusion on this issue, right?,” O’Rourke said. “You can feel as the young man does, you can feel as I do, you’re every bit as American.”

He references “Parting the Waters,” a three-volume history of America during the Civil Rights Movement written by Taylor Branch; the murders of four young black girls in a 1963 Birmingham church bombing; those who were brutally beaten trying to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Ala. and other horrible events of that era endured by black citizens and those working with them to try to secure better rights.

“Peaceful, non-violent protests, including taking a knee at a football game to point out that black men, unarmed, black teenagers, unarmed and black children, unarmed, are being killed at a frightening level right now, including by members of law enforcement, without accountability, and without justice,” O’Rourke said. “And this problem – as grave as it is – is not gonna fix itself and they’re frustrated, frankly, with people like me, and those in positions of public trust and power, who have been unable to resolve this or bring justice for what has been done and to stop it from continuing to happen in this country.

“And so non-violently, peacefully, while the eyes of this country are watching these games, they take a knee to bring our attention and our focus to this problem to ensure that we fix it. That is why they are doing it. And I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights, any time, anywhere, in any place.”

The video has gotten 6.1 million views as of this writing.

Sporting world responds

Many people in the sports world have responded to O’Rourke’s message. Teresa Kaepernick and Nessa Diab, Colin Kaepernick’s mother and girlfriend, respectively, retweeted the video, as did Eric Reid, Kaepernick’s friend and former teammate with the San Francisco 49ers who was the first to kneel alongside him in 2016.

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr tweeted, “Please watch this and be reminded of what thoughtful leadership looks and sounds like. Thank you @BetoORourke for giving us a glimpse of our future. Things will get better!”

Newly-minted Hall of Famer Terrell Owens posted, “To ALL NFL Teams!! Who U Wit?! #IMWITHKAP”

Owens wasn’t the only prominent NFL great to bring attention to O’Rourke’s message: Shannon Sharpe tweeted simply, “THIS” with an emoji pointing to the video, and Kurt Warner asked that “every past & present fan of NFL” listen to the words.

Two-time Olympic gold medal winning soccer player Abby Wambach wrote, “No matter where you land on this issue, because I understand it’s complicated, please watch this. @BetoORourke is smart, and compassionate, and respectful of all people here.”

Of course, many players who have protested, whether by kneeling or raising a fist, have expressed many of the same ideas, but it’s always good to have allies.

Meanwhile, in West Virginia…

As O’Rourke was earning plaudits on Tuesday night for his measured response, President Trump was holding a campaign rally in West Virginia. It had been a terrible day for Trump politically – his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was found guilty on eight of 18 charges of financial fraud and his longtime “fixer,” lawyer Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to eight charges in federal court and admitted to making illegal campaign contributions in coordination with Trump.

And Trump, predictably, returned to his old standbys, setting his sights on ESPN and protesting NFL players.

“You’re proud of our country, you’re proud of our history, and unlike the NFL, you always honor and cherish our great American flag,” Trump said. “It was just announced by ESPN that rather than defending our anthem, our beautiful, beautiful national anthem and defending our flag, they’ve decided that they just won’t broadcast when they play the national anthem. We don’t like that.”

ESPN officials said recently they won’t air the anthem during Monday Night Football unless events warrant; other league partners have said the same, in a return to regular practices.