On Monday morning, president Donald Trump attacked the Oakland Raiders' Marshawn Lynch in a tweet. Based on his action, though, Lynch might have known what was coming. "Marshawn Lynch of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders stands for the Mexican Anthem and sits down to boos for our National Anthem," wrote Trump on Twitter early Monday morning. "Great disrespect! Next time NFL should suspend him for remainder of season. Attendance and ratings way down."
As the president noted, Lynch had in fact stood for the Mexican national anthem and kneeled for the American one when his team played against the New England Patriots in a special game in Mexico City on Sunday. The Raiders running back has sat for the national anthem throughout the season as part of the wide-ranging protest against social inequality that the as yet unsigned quarterback Colin Kaepernick started during the 2016 season.
Standing for another country's anthem makes sense within this particular method of silent, non-violent protest, because Lynch ostensibly has no comment on social inequality in Mexico, and so standing for that anthem may have just been a matter of respect. For Trump, it's nearly a suspension-worthy offense.
Lynch doesn't often talk to the media, so he's unlikely to publicly explain his decision after this game. He did once wear a shirt that said “Everybody vs. Trump” before one game, though, which can be taken to give a fairly good indication of what he means to say.
Not standing for the "Star Spangled Banner" on foreign soil, however, has already drawn particular ire from critics of the protest this year. When many members of the Jacksonville Jaguars kneeled for the anthem before their game in London, they eventually had to apologize to the director of Jacksonville’s military affairs and veterans department explaining that they had not meant to disrespect the military while abroad.
The protest, of course, has nothing to do with the military — and when it started, it didn't even have anything to do with Trump. When Kaepernick spoke publicly about it, he explained that he was protesting the continued inequality and police oppression of people of color in the U.S. Lynch's shirt could mean that he has added an anti-Trump element to his particular protest, but that was by no means how the protest began. Trump has, however, seems to have grasped onto these public protests — which have spread across the major leagues — as one of the main problems with America.
Early in the NFL season, he called on the NFL to fire or suspend players who took a knee during the anthem. He's repeated that call since then, claiming that the protests are disrespectful. "When you go down and take a knee—you're sitting essentially—for our our national anthem, you're disrespecting our flag and you're disrespecting our country," Trump said in October. Many very high profile athletes have pushed back against statements like these, however.
"It's powerful what all these athletes are doing," said NBA player LeBron James in September. "It's not about the disrespect of our flag and the military that's made this world free."
While the NFL would be within its power to suspend or fire its employees for not following a rule, the league has so far showed no signs that they will do so. Lynch is an exceedingly popular player, so it seems unlikely that anything will change after the president's tweet — even if he did carry out this protest in Mexico.