Legal Analysis

President Trump Just Offered a Suggestion to End NFL Anthem Controversy, But It Has One Critical Flaw

President Donald Trump addressed reporters Friday morning to speak about several issues. One of the topics he tackled was the ongoing controversy surrounding NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem. A new NFL policy requires players to either stand on the field for the anthem or remain in the locker room, with teams facing a penalty if their players do not comply. Trump said he doesn’t like the idea of players staying in the locker room during the anthem, and suggested an alternate approach to dealing with concerns over racial inequality in the justice system, which is what the silent protests are intended to address. Despite this new attitude towards the issue, however, it may not end up solving the problem.

“You have a lot of people, in the NFL in particular, but in sports leagues they’re not proud enough to stand for the national anthem. I don’t like that,” Trump said. “I’m going to ask all of those people to recommend to me–because that’s what they’re protesting–people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system, and I understand that. And I’m going to ask them to recommend to me people who were unfairly treated, friend of theirs or people that they know about, and I’m gonna look at those applications.”

Trump said that if he and his committee find that those people were treat unfairly, “then we will pardon them, or at least let them out.”

This sounds like a great way to move the conversation forward instead of dwelling on who is taking a knee and why, and it very well might be productive. There’s just one big problem. As president, Trump only has the authority to issue pardons or grant clemency for federal crimes. The vast majority of cases of racial inequality that have drawn protests have been at the state level regarding local police officers’ treatment of minorities.

Trump has proven that he’s willing to hear people out and act accordingly, as he did when he granted clemency to Alice Marie Johnson after meeting with Kim Kardashian West. If athletes have gripes with federal law enforcement, there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t do the same. Still, without the ability to act on the state level, Trump’s ability to support those with complaints against local police would have to be limited to words instead of actions.

[Image via CNN screengrab]

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