“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!” said President Donald Trump on Sept. 22.
The equal and opposite reaction to the president’s insult was immediate and widespread across the NFL this weekend with players around the league taking a knee or locking arms in a show of solidarity. It’s been the talk of the league, with politicians, like fans, divided on the issue. In Newark, where NBA Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O’Neal was on hand to show support for Democrat Phil Murphy, the “Big Aristotle” had little, make that nothing to say, about the controversy roiling the sports world.
O’Neal, who you may remember endorsed Gov. Chris Christie four years ago, was critical of Colin Kaepernick, the first NFL player to take a knee during the anthem. He avoided repeated questions about the issue Monday, now that players around the league have taken up the protest. For his part, Murphy was pretty clear.
“I take my hat off to the players, who stood tall and exercised their first amendment rights,” said Murphy. “You could both be a patriot and also say, ‘you know what, I have a right to speak my own mind.’ So, I give them a lot of credit. They did it in different ways. In some cases, whole teams did things, and in other cases individuals did them. And it looked to me like they were all in it together.”
Murphy’s opponent, Kim Guadagno, was equally direct. The mother of an Air Force pilot, she said it was a no-brainer.
“When that National Anthem comes on, no matter who you are or what issues you may have, you should stand and salute our flag,” she said in a statement. “Our anthem should and must stay above the partisan political fray.”
The event itself was held at Newark’s Weequahic High School. It was supposed to be a “meet and greet” with O’Neal to talk about “life after high school,” but the talk was all about Murphy.
“We also have with us Ambassador Phil Murphy, who’s running for governor of New Jersey, who I’m supporting for governor,” announced Mayor Ras Baraka.
Kids here were on a half-day schedule, so technically, this rally was not held during school hours, but, as pep rallies go, it had little to do with Weequahic High, or life after high school, or even a lesson in free speech. This photo op was all about Shaq, and Murphy, harnessing the power of celebrity to throw heat, if not necessarily light.