On Monday, a conservative pastor from Texas, Robert Jeffress, said that NFL kneelers are "lucky they aren't shot," condemning the players and coaches who protest racial injustice by taking a knee during the singing of the U.S. national anthem at the beginning of a football game. To make matters worse, Jeffress is also a member of President Trump's informal evangelical advisory council.
Jeffress is a Southern Baptist pastor who helms a megachurch in Dallas, Texas called First Baptist Church. He also hosts a daily radio program, Pathway to Victory, as well as a television show by the same name. Both this television show and radio program are widely distributed across the United States.
The pastor and Trump advisor shared his thoughts on those who kneel during the national anthem during an interview on Fox and Friends on Monday. He told the show's host that he completely disapproved of the actions of those who kneel and stressed that those choosing to do so are lucky that they are not physically harmed for their actions.
I think what these players are doing is absolutely wrong ... These players ought to be thanking God that they live in a country where they’re not only free to earn millions of dollars every year, but they’re also free from the worry of being shot in the head for taking a knee like they would be if they were in North Korea.
Jeffress' comments come on the heels of Trump's extensive condemnation of NFL players for choosing to take a knee during the national anthem, with the president suggesting that any player who kneels should be fired. Trump's comments perhaps helped prompt even more players to kneel during the national anthem at various games in protest on Sunday, with other players often linking arms in solidarity with their kneeling teammates. Some teams, like the Seattle Seahawks, the Tennessee Titans, and the Pittsburgh Pirates (save one player) also chose to not take the field during the anthem altogether as a means of protest.
Furthermore on Fox and Friends, Jeffress indicated that he agreed with Trump's condemnation of protesting NFL players.
I think tens of millions of Americans agree with President Trump when he says they ought to be called out for this ... I know this president. President Trump is not a racist. For President Trump this is not about race. It’s about respect of country.
Following Jeffress' interview, the pastor was reportedly asked for clarification regarding his comments about players being lucky that they were not in North Korea — and suggesting that they should be considered fortunate that they are not "shot in the head" when they protest. Jeffress noted via a statement that he stands by his comments "as taken within their full context.” Jeffress also continued to further examine the NFL protests from a North Korean perspective.
It is an absolute fact that in many countries of the world professional athletes would be imprisoned ― or worse ― for publicly opposing their nation’s anthem or disrespecting their national leaders. If any member of the press doubts this fact, then I would encourage them to take a trip to North Korea themselves, publicly shame Kim Jong Un and then see what happens. All of us should thank God every day that we live in a country where we do not have to fear government persecution for expressing our beliefs.
In addition to his brazen suggestion that players are fortunate that they are not shot for protesting, many are also likely disturbed by Jeffress' seemingly ironic suggestion that NFL players should exercise the freedom he so espouses by choosing to not engage in protest. In other words, he implies that players should realize that they are lucky to be free but then not engage in any activity that demonstrates this freedom.
Overall, Jeffress' comments about kneeling NFL players were both jarring and logically inconsistent, to say the least. The pastor's words are certainly illustrative of the intensive and disquieting criticism NFL players have had to endure as they take a stand against injustice.