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.

“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.”

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Sep 24, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts players kneel during the playing of the National Anthem before the game against the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Baltimore Ravens players kneel for the American National anthem during the NFL International Series match between Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on September 24, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Members of the Dallas Cowboys link arms and kneel during the National Anthem before the start of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 25, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan links arms with players during the national anthems before the match Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: (L-R) Wide recceivers Chris Moore and Breshad Perriman of the Baltimore Ravens pray prior to kickoff during the NFL match between The Jacksonville Jaguars and The Baltimore Ravens at Wembley Stadium on September 24, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mitchell Gunn/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Jacksonville Jaguar players show their protest during the National Anthem during the NFL International Series match between Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on September 24, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Patrick Omameh of the Jacksonville Jaguars kneels during the U.S. national anthem before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel during the U.S. national anthem before the match Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel during the U.S. national anthem before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Jacksonville Jaguar players show their protest during the National Anthem during the NFL International Series match between Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on September 24, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: (Editors Note: This image has been turned black and white) Jacksonville Jaguars enter te stadium during the NFL International Series match between Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on September 24, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Sep 24, 2017; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills players kneel in protest during the National Anthem before a game against the Denver Broncos at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Denver Bronco players kneel in protest during the National Anthem before a game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) and teammates stand next to service members holding a giant US flag during the national anthem prior to the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; The Cleveland Browns team stand and kneel during the National Anthem before the start of their game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers link arms during the national anthem prior to the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (44) middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead (59) running back Ameer Abdullah (21) outside linebacker Steve Longa (54) defensive end Jeremiah Ledbetter (98) defensive end Armonty Bryant (97) defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson (91) and defensive end Cornelius Washington (90) kneel during the national anthem before the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
September 24, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets players lock arms during the national anthem before the game against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Members of the Denver Broncos kneel during the playing of the national anthem prior to a game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; The Dallas Cowboys players, coaches and staff take a knee prior to the National Anthem before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; London, United Kingdom; Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel during the playing of the United Sates national anthem before a NFL International Series game against the Baltimore Ravens at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; Members of the New England Patriots take a knee during the national anthem before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Some of the Miami Dolphins take a knee during the anthem prior to the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; Members of the New England Patriots kneel for the national anthem before the start of the game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel during the U.S. national anthem before the match Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Patrick Omameh of the Jacksonville Jaguars kneels during the U.S. national anthem before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Sep 24, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Oakland Raiders players sit on the bench during the national anthem prior to their game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder stands with cornerback Josh Norman (24) and cornerback Bashaud Breeland (26) and safety D.J. Swearinger (36) during the playing of the national anthem before the game between the Washington Redskins and the Oakland Raiders at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Oakland Raiders players sit on the bench during the national anthem prior to their game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Carson, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Marcus Peters (22) protests next to running back Charcandrick West (35) and defensive tackle Roy Miller (98) during the National Anthem prior to the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at StubHub Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Lance Kendricks (84) and tight end Martellus Bennett (80) sit on the bench during the national anthem prior to the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Recording artist Meghan Linsey kneels after singing the national anthem before the game between the Tennessee Titans and the Seattle Seahawks at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
September 24, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets players lock arms during the national anthem before the game against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan links arms with players during the national anthems before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 24: Members of the Chicago Bears stand arm-in-arm during the National Anthem before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Soldier Field on September 24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Justin Houston #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs is seen taking a knee during the National Anthem before the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at the StubHub Center on September 24, 2017 in Carson, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 General view during the national anthems before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
At the start of the game protestors take a knee in support of the movement started by NFL player Colin Kaepernick, outside Lincoln Financial Field, in South Philadelphia, PA, on September 24, 2017. Similar protest are staged around the nation after US President Donald Trump named Kaepernick a Son of A Bitch at a recent rally. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Strong safety Tyvon Branch #27 of the Arizona Cardinals links arms with staff and players during the National Anthem before the start of the NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 25, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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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 Pettus 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.

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