Saturday morning, President Donald Trump attempted to rescind a White House invitation he apparently had never extended, when he tweeted that Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry was no longer welcome to make the customary visit to celebrate the team’s NBA championship.
Curry, Trump said, was “hesitating” to commit to the trip ― an obvious falsehood, considering that the point guard had on Friday stated plainly that he had no interest in visiting the president.
The tweet followed Trump’s Friday night attack on NFL players who, inspired by the example of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have spent the last year protesting racial injustice and police brutality during the national anthem. “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,” Trump said at a rally in Alabama. “Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”
That, meanwhile, followed the White House’s decision last week to call for the firing of ESPN anchor Jemele Hill, who in a series of tweets had called the president a “white supremacist.”
Curry, Hill, and the vast majority of NFL players who have protested during the anthem, like Kaepernick, of course, are all African-Americans. In the span of less than two weeks, the president of the United States has used his bully pulpit three times to attack prominent black sports figures.
That is a remarkable and improper use of presidential power. But it is not at all surprising that sports figures have become the focus of Trump’s ire.
From boxer Jack Johnson to the University of Wyoming’s Black 14, from Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith and John Carlos to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Craig Hodges, America has a long tradition of black athletes taking a stand against racial injustice. Black protest in sports tends to take the form of a freighted absence — Ali gone from boxing for three years; Abdul-Rauf in the locker room during the national anthem. Curry’s pointed withdrawal from the White House visit is of a piece with Kaepernick’s choice to sit during the anthem, which subsequently led the league to blackball him. ESPN, in its frantic attempts to keep Hill off the air, nearly created a charged absence right in the middle of its afternoon programming block.