Philadelphia Eagles Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod raise their fists as they stand with Coach Doug Pederson during the national anthem on Oct. 12. (Mike Mccarn/Associated Press)

Philadelphia Eagles Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod raise their fists as they stand with Coach Doug Pederson during the national anthem on Oct. 12. (Mike Mccarn/Associated Press)

by Kevin Blackistone

In a few short years, a crime-fighting idea born at the Glenarden Community Center in Prince George’s County became a national sensation. It was called Midnight Basketball. A retired government worker turned town manager, G. Van Standifer, started it in hopes of grabbing the attention of young men who seemed to occupy themselves with little more than trouble at the most troubling time of day, after dark.

President George H. Bush was so taken by the success he saw one night at the Glenarden gym in 1991 that he made it part of his Thousand Points of Light public service campaign. By 1994, Midnight Basketball spread to other cities and towns. President Clinton even tacked it onto the now-infamous omnibus anti-crime bill as a block grant beneficiary.

And there, it was attacked.

House Republicans conjured the racial imagery of basketball by deriding the late night games as “hugs for thugs,” that euphemism for the kind of black men who were central personalities of midnight basketball and, maybe more importantly, could be exploited as political pokers to stoke the racial fears of the Republican base, solidify that foundation and expand it.

Or do exactly with black men what President Trump has done with NFL players, most of whom are black, who have dared protest against him and social injustice with the national anthem and flag as their platform.

Trump denied that his harangue against what was a small number of NFL players who picked up where out-of-work quarterback Colin Kaepernick left off – sitting, kneeling or punching a fist into the air during the national anthem to protest the unchecked extrajudicial killing of black men in America – had anything to do with skin color.

“I never said anything about race,” Trump responded last month. “This has nothing to do with race or anything else.”

Yet, in poll after poll since, the public has responded to questions on how it feels about NFL players using the anthem to protest in a similar manner it has about supporting Trump’s candidacy and nine-month-old presidency. Just as white citizens were more likely to support Trump’s candidacy, and less likely to be critical of his presidency, they are more likely to be critical of NFL players who demonstrate at games. And those white Americans are more likely to identify as Republicans, if not part of Trump’s base.

Quinnipiac Poll released last week found that 60 percent of white voters disapproved of NFL players kneeling during the anthem, while 79 percent of black voters approved. And 67 percent of Republicans, eight out of 10 of whom national statistics show are white, also charged that the NFL players acted inappropriately.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post

Kevin B. Blackistone, ESPN panelist and visiting professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, writes sports commentary for the Post.