Montel Williams to Trump: We're not North Korea. NFL players can choose to take a knee.

The Late Feed looks at why NFL player Colin Kapernick began kneeling during the national anthem before games

One of the many things President Trump doesn't appear to understand is that what separates our republic from North Korea is that our Constitution forbids forced displays of patriotism. No one can seriously be surprised that yet again, he’s yelled “fire” to please a crowded theater full of his ill-informed, almost entirely white devotees. Trump’s “presidency” has already failed spectacularly, and it is predictable that he’s picking a fight with black professional athletes. He knows that as long as he plays to “white grievance,” his supporters will ignore the fact he’s accomplished nothing for them.

I served 22 years in the military, and I choose to stand and sing when the anthem is played because I love the fact I live in the country where doing so is my choice. Having attended a great deal of Sunday School growing up, we did a lot of kneeling — when we prayed, when we took communion — we did so out of respect. I fail to understand why kneeling is a sign of respect sufficient for God and yet so disrespectful during the playing of a song. I’d remind those serving and my fellow veterans that none of our fallen brothers and sisters took an oath to a piece of cloth sewn by Betsy Ross or a song written by Francis Scott Key. We swore absolute allegiance to the Constitution which bars forced displays of patriotism.

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Before Trump poured gasoline on this fire in his rambling speech Friday night, there weren’t that many players kneeling and certainly there were no teams staying in the locker room for the anthem. His supporters, and conservatives generally, should take a deep breath, stop acting hysterically on social media and look inward. This president creates crises when he feels insecure. He's about to go down to yet another humiliating defeat in his attempt to take a black man’s name off a health care policy, and his ego needed a distraction. That is why he did this.

The irony of Trump being taken seriously about issues of “respect” for anything after the Access Hollywood tape shouldn’t be lost on us — especially respect for the uniform, given that the president seems proud enough of dodging the draft to write about it in his books. This isn’t about “respect.” This is about dog-whistling to his base that a bunch of black athletes need to be put in their place.

These players are raising a very important issue. There are serious racial disparities in our criminal justice system so profoundly obvious that everyone from the Koch brothers to Bernie Sanders agrees that serious reforms are needed. I have criticized Colin Kaepernick on many occasions for behavior I consider childish — wearing anti-police socks comes to mind. I think he’s done a poor job explaining what he’s protesting and what sort of change he wants to bring about to address the problems that he correctly identifies. But I admire the integrity inherent in his willingness to risk everything to stand up to injustice.

I saw #MAGA Twitter light up Sunday night calling for a boycott of the NFL and, like most Americans, rolled my eyes. In recent years, conservatives have called for boycotts of network and cable TV, including the children’s programs Barney and Friends and The Power Rangers as well as Disney theme parks out of fear that they would turn kids gay, they’ve boycotted Target over bathrooms and called for boycotts of Mexico multiple times. None of those boycotts accomplished anything and boycotting the NFL isn’t going to result in the league or the owners teaching those uppity black players a lesson.

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POLICING THE USA: A look at race, justice, media

It’s naive to think this is an issue of patriotism. We need to understand it’s not. This is about fear, often times subconscious — fear of losing control when a group of very famous black people use their platforms together to try and make change. I don’t think pursuing racial and social justice should cause people to be afraid, unless they are motivated by hate. This kneeling business is indisputably dripping in racism.

The truth of the matter is Trump is ill-equipped to do battle with Stephen CurryLeBron James or the NFL athletes who protested Sunday. They are more popular than he ever will be. We can do better than this as a country. Together we can rise above “leaders” who would exploit the deep-seated bias and resentment of those who know no better to distract from their own lack of accomplishment.

Montel Williams, a 22-year Marine Corps and Navy veteran who served primarily as a special duty intelligence officer, went on to start the Emmy-award-winning Montel Williams Show that ran for 17 seasons. Follow him on Twitter @Montel_Williams

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @USATOpinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

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