The first disabled female veteran to be elected to the Senate and the House is throwing her support behind athletes who choose to protest racial inequality by taking a knee at NFL games. Sen. Tammy Duckworth said Friday she considered it an honor to defend everyone's First Amendment rights, including the free speech rights of those who opt not to stand for the national anthem.
"One day, our nation's flag will drape my coffin, just as it did my Dad's and will my husband's and brother's," Sen. Tammy Duckworth tweeted Friday alongside a photo of her prothetic legs. "I will always stand on these legs for the flag and anthem, but it was ALSO my honor to defend people's right to free speech, including those who choose to #TakeAKnee to express outrage at the glaring disparity in how Americans of different races are treated."
The Illinois senator lost both of her legs when a helicopter she was flying as part of an Operation Iraqi Freedom combat mission was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade. Sen. Duckworth served as a member of the U.S. Army during the Iraq War after enrolling in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps with the Illinois Army National Guard, according to Biography.com.
Sen. Duckworth's tweet comes roughly a day after President Donald Trump applauded a new NFL policy that requires players stand on the field during the national anthem or remain in the locker room. Under the new policy, teams whose players refuse to comply with the rule will face a penalty in the form of a fine. The policy also notes that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem," according to a copy of the new policy obtained by WSB-TV in Atlanta.
President Trump was asked his thoughts about the NFL's decision to effectively ban on-field protests during the national anthem during an interview on Fox & Friends on Thursday. "I think that's good," he said of the NFL's new policy. "I don't think people should be staying in the locker rooms, but still, I think it's good."
The president then went on to suggest that those who don't stand for the national anthem shouldn't be in the country. "You have to stand proudly for the national anthem," President Trump said. "You shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there. Maybe they shouldn't be in the country." It was unclear if the president was implying that U.S. citizens or legal residents should be exiled or deported for exercising their Constitutional right to free speech.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was, in 2016, the first NFL player to refuse to stand when the national anthem was played at games. At the time, Kaepernick said he would not "stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."
"To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way," Kaepernick said in a post-game interview with NFL Media. "There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
As more players began to follow Kaepernick's example by taking a knee or participating in some other form of silent protest during the national anthem, President Trump weighed in on the issue during a rally in 2017, saying fans should boycott games where players protest and the NFL should fire any player who takes a knee.
Vice President Mike Pence also applauded the NFL for effectively banning on-field protests during the national anthem, calling the new policy "a win for" President Trump in a tweet published Wednesday.