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Rev. Jesse Jackson: Colin Kaepernick is a “Martyr” & Deserves the Right to Play Football

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We speak with Rev. Jesse Jackson about how Vice President Mike Pence flew to Indianapolis to stage a walkout of an NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts, after players on both teams held a protest against racial injustice during the national anthem. Pence tweeted he was there, but used an old photo, and the incident is being condemned as an expensive stunt.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to turn to a second subject with you, Reverend Jackson, and this is the issue of the controversy of politics and sports.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right. We want to turn to the continued controversy. On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence flew to Indianapolis, where he staged a walkout of an NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Indianapolis Colts, after players on both teams held a protest against racial injustice during the national anthem.

Pence tweeted, quote, “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem. At a time when so many Americans are inspiring our nation with their courage, resolve, and resilience… …now, more than ever, we should rally around our Flag and everything that unites us… While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I don’t think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem.”

Well, more than 20 members of the San Francisco 49ers knelt during the anthem, while Colts players stood with locked arms, wearing shirts reading, “We will stand for equality, justice, unity, respect, dialogue, opportunity.”

AMY GOODMAN: Afterward, several reports surfaced that Vice President Pence’s decision to leave may have been pre-planned. NBC reporter Vaughn Hillyard, traveling with the vice president’s pool, tweeted, “The media pool was kept in the vans ahead of the game instead of being led in with VPOTUS. As media pool has been made aware, a staffer told pool that VPOTUS“—that’s vice president of the United States—”may depart the game early. Did not indicate how early.”

Donald Trump took credit for Pence’s action, tweeting, “”I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.” On Monday, Trump’s presidential fundraising committee used the walkout in an email, telling supporters, quote, “Immediately after the Vice President’s honorable display of leadership and patriotism, the Fake News Media relentlessly ATTACKED him,” unquote.

Well, meanwhile, the selfie that Pence tweeted of him and his wife, saying he was looking forward to cheering Peyton Manning and the Colts, was the same picture that was used in a tweet by then-Indiana Governor Pence in November of 2014, when he tweeted, “Cheering on our colts w/FirstLadyIN as they kick off the 2nd half! Go #Colts, beat Jaguars!” Well, San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid, who joined quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests last year, referenced that photo on Sunday.

ERIC REID: With the information I have, him tweeting a three-year-old photo, until—until he can prove that he’s been an avid Colt fan and he comes to NFL games on a regular basis, this is a PR play. … My mother served in the armed forces. Three of my uncles served in the armed forces. In fact, my mom would have went to the Persian Gulf War had she not been pregnant with me. I have the utmost respect for the military, the anthem and the flag, so I will say that every time you all interview me. This is about systemic oppression that has been rampant in this country for decades on top of decades. And I will continue to say and encourage people to educate themselves of how we got to where we are today, because it didn’t happen overnight. And it’s not going happen overnight to fix these issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Pence’s brief visit to Indianapolis cost the public an estimated quarter of a million dollars, after he traveled from Las Vegas to Indianapolis for this brief appearance at Lucas Oil Stadium, before flying back to a fundraising event in California. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Trump tweeted, “Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!”

Well, for more, we continue our conversation with the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: You know, Trump’s issue is the flag. Players’ issue is race discrimination. And this is not desecrating the flag, as in wearing flag underwear or burning the flag, as some have done and found that they had the right to do that by the Constitution. This is not flag desecration. This is about using the symbol as a gesture. When my father came home from World War II, he had to sit behind Nazi prisoners of war on American military bases. The flag was still flying. The Klan flies the American flag and the Confederate flag. Confederate flag is to protest against the American flag. Union soldiers were veterans, too. And justice is what the flag is to be about.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you, you, yourself, as a former college football player, when you see the attacks now on these African-American athletes, saying these are multimillionaires, they’re coddled, and they have no right to be engaging in this kind of protest?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Most of them go to schools where there’s 6 to 8 percent black school population and 80 percent black football and basketball players. They are aware of apartheid on these campuses. They are aware that they they’ve gone from picking cotton balls to picking footballs, but not really growing. They are aware of that. And Trump and Jerry Jones challenging their sense of dignity and manhood just accentuates it to another level. Kaepernick, his right to have a job tryout is being denied. His constitutional rights are being challenged. The players honor the First Amendment. And so, really, Trump and Pence are protesting their right to exercise their First Amendment rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to turn to what the owners are going to do, from the NBA to the NFL. On Sunday, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones clarified his position on players kneeling during the national anthem, stating, “If there is anything that is disrespectful to the flag, then we will not play,” period. Trump later tweeted, in response, “A big salute to Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who will BENCH players who disrespect our Flag. ’Stand for Anthem or sit for game!” Last month, Jones, along with members of the Dallas Cowboys, took a knee before the anthem in a statement of unity with players. The NBA also has now said—you know, I mean, Trump is really pushing this—that they—that players cannot take the knee during the anthem.


AMY GOODMAN: The owners are going to meet later this week, of the NFL teams.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Trump is threatening the owners. Owners are threatening the players and challenging their sense of dignity, their sense of manhood. And these players are going to kneel as a protest in the lineage of Dr. King, in the lineage of Mandela, in the lineage of their families that they come from. And so, I would hope Jerry Jones will not take a position so strong, so anti-American. He is otherwise a fairly decent guy. I’ve known him for a long time. I remember players he’s helped—Bob Hayes, after playing days. He’s a good guy. But now I think Trump has diverted the issue from racial justice to the flag. And how can Trump take the lead on a patriotic flag test? When it was time for war, he ran. He’s a draft dodger.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, the issue—you’re a reverend. We had Reverend Barber on last week, and he talked about the symbolic importance of taking a knee, of the symbol of prayer, Dr. King—and you were with Dr. King in his last moments of breath—those images of him in places like Birmingham taking the knee.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: It’s not a—suppose it were a symbol of the burning—burning the flag or desecrating the flag, or as some, as did, wore flag underwear, to make another point. They are simply kneeling. And this, a nonviolent protest, should be met with embrace. Curt Flood made a protest against the owners owning players, when they tried to sell him. And the reason we have free agency today is Curt Flood. He took the test of courage. He passed the test. He was kicked out of baseball. In some sense, he’s in the Ali “I have the right to change my name and not fight a war” tradition. He’s in the lineage of the Jackie Robinsons. He’s in the lineage of those athletes who, with a sense of dignity, a non-negotiable dignity, fought back. And I think that Colin Kaepernick is a martyr, by virtue of his suffering, and he deserves the right, even now, to try out for teams.

AMY GOODMAN: Harry Edwards says he should be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Colin Kaepernick.



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