By Julia Zorthian
September 25, 2017

Renowned NBC sportscaster Bob Costas on Monday delivered a powerful take on President Donald Trump’s escalating war with the NFL and its players, saying one “can’t separate” Trump’s NFL attacks from their racial context despite his insistence it has nothing to do with race.

“Patriotism comes in many forms and what has happened is it’s been conflated with a bumper-style kind of flag-waving and with the military only so that people cannot see that in his own way Colin Kaepernick, however imperfectly, is doing a patriotic thing,” said Costas, decrying Trump’s “insulting remarks” about the NFL, during an appearance on CNN. “And so too are some of these other players.”

“Martin Luther King was a patriot,” Costas added. “Susan B. Anthony was a patriot. Dissidents are patriots. Schoolteachers and social workers are patriots.”

Costas’ NFL comments came a day after more than 200 NFL players took a knee during national anthems before football games, in protest of Trump’s comments that they should be fired for doing so. Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, first took a knee to protest racial inequality and police brutality against African-Americans in the U.S. at the start of last year’s NFL season. Since then, other NFL players have taken knees—and this weekend, locked arms—during the anthem to demonstrate against social injustice and support the cause.

Here’s a transcript of Costas discussing the NFL, Trump and the reactions to his remarks.

COSTAS: “The reaction is so universal, including from prominent NFL owners who have supported and donated to Trump’s campaign and to his inaugural committee. Bob Pratt, across the board. And you have not heard a single person within the NFL raise a voice in support of what Trump said. Rex Ryan said he’s appalled, and now ashamed, that he once introduced Trump at a rally in Buffalo where he then was a coach.

What’s happened here is that what was already an issue raised primarily by Colin Kaepernick has expanded beyond the specific point that Kaepernick was trying to make, which was a very valid point, and now it’s become near-universal disgust with the President’s insulting remarks.”

BERMAN: “Your friend Peter King noted that last week there were fewer than 10 NFL players who kneeled, who did some kind of protest. This weekend, depending on how you count it: 250, including entire teams? How significant is that, to see a movement that—I can’t think of anything like that in the NFL.”

COSTAS: “No, but the president has galvanized players of all backgrounds, of all beliefs. Drew Brees in his complete statement says that has said he would never feel comfortable not standing for the national anthem. But he would stand locking arms with his fellow players, black and white, with a hand on the shoulder of a black player who was expressing his point of view, and he pointedly said that he found the President’s remarks inappropriate. Which is kind.”

CAMEROTA: “What’s interesting is the President could have used this as a teachable moment, to say, ‘Here’s why I believe we should stand for the national anthem, here’s what I believe it stands for,’ but he took a different tack. And it has—look we saw, what was happening with just the fans yelling at each other. There is something contagious about divisiveness.”

COSTAS: “Yeah. And it plays, in certain quarters. You stir people’s emotions and resentments, that’s actually a business plan in certain quarters of the internet or cable television, it’s a business plan. And it’s the way President Trump, for better or worse, approached his campaign and approaches his presidency. To give him the extreme benefit of the doubt, extreme benefit of the doubt, you’d say he’s insensitive to the racial implications to make comments about this at a rally in Alabama. He likes cheap applause lines and he delivered them.

BERMAN: “Which has no football team, by the way.”

COSTAS: “Well, no pro football team. They’re rabid football fans down there. That’s to give him the extreme benefit of the doubt. But do you want a President of the United States who, even if you’re giving him the benefit of that doubt, is so tone-deaf to the racial implications of this?”

BERMAN: “It’s interesting, because this morning one of the things the President has written, he writes “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!” Now, if you take your tack there and say giving him the benefit of the doubt….maybe for him, the extreme benefit of the doubt—the issue of kneeling isn’t about race, but for the players, especially the players initially to say it isn’t about race, that’s not true.”

COSTAS: “Seventy percent of the players in the NFL, roughly, are African American. Virtually every player who knelt in the initial stages of this was black, and the initial impetus from it or for it came from Colin Kaepernick and it was about police brutality and mistreatment of African Americans. You can’t separate those two things.

Now, if you want to make the point that the national anthem is about something more than the nation’s flaws and shortcomings, it’s also about its ideals and that people can see some texture to what the national anthem means, and you might prefer that people protest or make their point outside of the national anthem, that’s something to be argued. But the idea that this doesn’t have something to do with race is preposterous. Michael Steele, African American, former head of the Republican National Committee, was unsparing in his remarks about what Trump had to say. Bob Craft, who contributed to the inaugural committee. You’re not going to find many voices of support outside his base, his extreme base, for these remarks.”

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