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Three NFL Teams Stay In Locker Rooms During Anthem; Trump's Attacks Unify NFL Over Anthem Protests; NFL Protests Expand, Intensify After Trump Attacks; NFL Teams Condemn Trump's Attacks On Anthem Protests. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 25, 2017 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Today the country's most popular sport goes head to head with the president of the United States. NFL players, coaches, owners, and executives locking arms in solidarity over the weekend in response to President Trump and his Friday night rant against the players who have silently protested racial injustice during the national anthem.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag, to say get that son of a (inaudible) off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired!


BOLDUAN: The president did not stop there. A dozen tweets piling on over the weekend and into today. The impact, well, this is what it looked like. Yesterday, more than 250 players and personnel joining together defending their right to speak out.

Veteran sportscaster, NBC's Bob Costas says that the numbers that he saw are remarkable, and now, even allies of the president also remarkably speaking out.


BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTSCASTER: The reaction is so universal, including from prominent NFL owners who have supported and donated to Trump's campaign and his inaugural committee --

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Bob Kraft is one of them.

COSTAS: Across the board. You have not heard a single person within the NFL raise a voice in support of what Trump said. Rex Ryan says he's appalled and now ashamed that he once introduced Trump at a rally in Buffalo where he then was the coach.

What's happened here, is that what was already an issue raised primarily by Colin Kaepernick has expanded beyond the specific point that Kaepernick was trying to make, which was a very valid point, and now has become near universal disgust with the president's insulting remarks.


BOLDUAN: So, why is the president weighing in on this? And where do we go from here? CNN's Joe Johns is at the White House starting us off today. Joe, what's the White House saying today?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Kate, another flurry of tweets from the president, once again, as he often does, teeing up the conversation first thing in the morning, like it or not, and we've put together a graphic of three of those tweets that really give you a flavor of where the president was going this morning.

The first one, focusing on professional racing. It says, "So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans they won't put up with disrespecting our country or our flag. They said it loud and clear."

The second tweet there, "Many people booed the players," talking about the NFL now, "who kneeled yesterday, which was a small percentage of total. These are fans who demand respect for our flag."

And the third one you see on the screen, "The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It's about respect for our country, flag and national anthem. NFL must respect this."

So, on the first tweet, there was, if you will, a bit of a response this morning from someone you could describe only as NASCAR racing royalty, that would be Dale Earnhardt Jr., who tweeted around 8:54 this morning.

"All Americans are granted rights to peaceful protest, those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." An interesting tweet from a race car legend's family.

Now, on the other issue of the president's assertion the issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race, that seems to fly in the face of the facts as laid out by the professional football players who have been engaging in the kneeling protest going all the way back to Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback that started this protest kneeling during the national anthem.

His point and the point of many of the other players has been, that this is all about racial inequities in the United States and trying to put a highlight or, you know, a focusing on those issues.

So, this is a kind of controversy that's going to go on and on and on. Meanwhile, we all watch Capitol Hill to see what's happening in policy on things like health care -- Kate.

[11:05:04] BOLDUAN: Right or emergency response to the disaster in Puerto Rico, many things like that. All of that going on walking and chewing gum we will do today. This has absolutely exploded. Joe Johns, thank you so much. This has absolutely exploded since Friday night started by the president. So, from Washington, let's go straight to the NFL, Dolphins Safety Michael Thomas in the foreground, number 31, since last season he has been quietly protesting by kneeling, taking part in the protests during the national anthem.

He actually has said after last season he was done with the protesting, he did not protest and kneel in the first game of the season. But then this happened and he had a very emotional reaction last night after the game.


MICHAEL THOMAS, MIAMI DOLPHINS SAFETY: You're the leader of the free world. This is what you are talking about. So it -- as a man as a father, as an African-American man, as somebody in the NFL, one of those son of (inaudible) yes, I take it personally but as I said in my Twitter post it's bigger than me man you know what I'm saying.

It's bigger than me. I got a daughter. She going to have to live in this world know what I'm saying. I'm going to do whatever I got to do to make sure, you know, she can look at my dad -- her dad and be like you tried to make a change.


BOLDUAN: That was last night. I was able to speak with Michael Thomas just a short time ago this morning.


THOMAS: I think that's the whole point of why, you know, the protests even started. It's not about just us. It wasn't about Kaepernick himself. It wasn't about, you know, the athletes who chose to take a knee themselves. We're speaking for everybody that's come from the communities we've lived in and my family and friends still live in, you know, they don't have the same platform we have, they don't have the same voice.

Lot of people that say oh, you know, what -- what do you face, what are you really going through right now, you're in the NFL, but it's like no my family is living there, my friends are living there. I'm speaking for all those people who don't have that same platform, that same voice in.

For me, I did get emotional, you know, once I thought about it, you know, like my daughter's going to have to live in this world, you know, and at some point, she's going to look back and the way the internet works and stuff, they will show the post of her dad taking a knee and she's going to see everything.

And I just want her to know like my dad was fighting for something bigger than him, he was doing this for me and yes, that is emotional because, you know, I'll take whatever people want to, you know, say about me, you know, they can bash me you're unpatriotic, even though that's not true. They can wish injury upon me and stuff like that, but I'm doing this for my family, man. It wasn't my intentions to show, you know, emotion last night, but it just got the best of me.

BOLDUAN: What was the conversation like amongst the team beforehand?

THOMAS: I mean, it was brief, but it was powerful at the same time. You know, this time last year, it was new to everybody, not many people wanted to get involved. As a matter of fact, I think it could even be said like not many even people even agree with us, especially our teammates, to get involved with this.

You know, just focus on football. But I think after, you know, Trump's comments the other night, even teammates who still didn't really want to get involved with protesting realize OK, that was a personal attack on one of my teammates.

And if I really call them my brother and really go out and want to, you know, put everything on the line with them every single Sunday I have to have their back and if this is something they care about I have to care about it.

It was real simple, hey, you know, last year was rough for me and Kenny when we were by ourselves is there anything we can do as a team, you know, I know everybody might not want to be involved is there anything we can do as a team, as an organization to show hey, we got each other's back.

And it was real simple, everybody was like, yes, man we got your back, let's lock arms. I think that's the easiest things. There were still some players that wanted to take a knee that was fine too. Nobody disagreed with that.

BOLDUAN: Michael, the president said yesterday and tweeted again about it this morning that it -- this isn't about race. This isn't about respecting the flag. Do you believe him?

THOMAS: He can make it be whatever he wants it to be. Sounds like to me he's really backtracking his comments, maybe his plan. Everything go as plan for him. He's trying to twist it for whatever he wants it to be but it is. It is and --

BOLDUAN: It is about race?

THOMAS: Yes, it is about race, it is about any -- you know, the -- the inequalities in our communities and people are going to continue to like voice their opinions. They're going to continue to show demonstrations.

[11:10:09] They're going to continue to protest because this what is we're trying to shed light on. If he continues to try to make it about something it's not and not acknowledge what we're trying to use our voices and platforms for, people are going to continue, you know, to use their voice and continue to use their platform to show this what is we're standing up for.


BOLDUAN: All right. That was Michael Thomas, thanks to him for joining us before the show. For more than a year now, Philadelphia Eagles Safety Malcolm Jenkins has raised a fist in protest during the national anthem and among a group of players who has asked the NFL to devote a month to awareness on social issues.

He was one of the players standing there lock step locked in arms with leaders yesterday and that team leader, Malcolm Jenkins, is joining me from Philadelphia. Malcolm, thank you so much for joining me.


BOLDUAN: What was it like being on the field last night with the players even the team owner, Jeffrey Lurie locked arms.

JENKINS: I mean, I thought it was -- it was an epic moment, myself and players around the league have, obviously, been engaging in demonstrations during the national anthem for over a year now, trying to draw attention to the inequalities in our cities, our communities.

And we've got a lot of backlash and pushback from it and have been grossly misunderstood and so for the first time we really saw a unified effort to really support those players who have been really trying to effectuate positive change in their communities.

We got the backing from not only our teammates but our coaches, staff in the league and ownership, so I thought it was a great day to change that narrative from these demonstrations being something divisive, to something that's being truly unifying and raising up the players that are trying to do good work in their communities.

BOLDUAN: Malcolm, was yesterday about the president or was it about racial inequality?

JENKINS: Well, I think if you just go back to what everything that started where the knee came from, it's all about racial inequality.


JENKINS: When it comes to our justice system, when it comes to, you know, the education gap, economics, but I think, obviously, in response to what our president decided to put out there last Friday, this was an opportunity for the league to stand by those players who are standing up.

And really highlight their character, highlight their intentions and let everybody know, send a message we're not divided, that we're not, you know, some rebels that we all feel this way. We all feel like we have a responsibility to effectuate change in our communities and this was an opportunity to really grab ahold of that responsibility.

BOLDUAN: Well, what is your message then to President Trump today?

JENKINS: I don't have a message for President Trump. You know, like I said, myself and my peers have been working diligently over the last year not only through these demonstrations but more so behind the scenes talking to legislators visiting prisons talking with law enforcement, taking ride along you name it and this is happening around the country.

We don't have a message for him. We're actually doing the work. We're just trying to continue to educate the public of what's going on, what are some of the issues and how they can be part of the solution.

And that's what we're encouraging people to do, to listen, to learn, and become part of the solution, don't engage in divisive conversation or rhetoric because it gets us nowhere.

BOLDUAN: Well, and as you mentioned, I mean, you have been -- you haven't just been raising a fist during the national anthem, you have been working with the community off the field, on your own time. What do you say to folks that say it is fine to protest but not on company time. We heard that from the president's treasury secretary yesterday.

JENKINS: Well, I mean, I think that's an unfortunate, you know, way to do it. We raise, you know, awareness for breast cancer for a whole month. We raise, you know, awareness for domestic violence and other things and so I don't see how we should somehow be quiet when we want to talk about racial equality or inequality and social justice and those things.

I think those fall right in line. I think we have a responsibility as athletes, as role models, as leaders in our communities, to really engage in these conversations and what prescription people together more than football?

I think we have that unique ability to bring people from all races, creeds and backgrounds to the table in order to have a good time and while we do that we can enjoy the game but let's talk about some of the things going on in our communities, especially in these NFL cities. I think as athletes and a league, we want to take hold of that responsibility.

[11:15:08] BOLDUAN: You don't have a message for President Trump, but there is a very overwhelming response to his remarks and you say you don't want to divide, you want to unite. Do you think the president is dividing with his comments?

JENKINS: I think so. I mean, I think nothing that he said acknowledged the work that guys have been doing. They didn't acknowledge any of the reasoning why guys felt the need to protest in the first place.

And I think what that does is continues to lead to misunderstanding, continues to lead to arguments and strife and I think it's an opportunity for him to really highlight, you know, some of the work that players are doing to make America great like he says that he wants and I think the NFL plays a unique role in impacting cities and communities.

BOLDUAN: Do you think he should apologize to anyone or owe anyone an apology?

JENKINS: You know, I played -- this is my ninth year in the NFL and being at the forefront of this whole demonstration thing for the last year, I've grown very, very seasoned to internet trolls and I've never once asked anybody on Twitter to apologize to me. I don't. I'm not looking for one.

BOLDUAN: Do you think the president is being an internet troll?

JENKINS: You know, sometimes, you know, like I said, I deal with a lot of comments, a lot of tweets, where people are not in it to listen to anything, they're not in it to understand, they want reaction.

And I think that was what we've seen so far in the commentary from our president from Friday until, you know, up to this point. It hasn't been one of understanding or unity. It's been strictly about, you know, dividing whether it be the fan base or the NFL or our country.

BOLDUAN: Well, Malcolm, thank you for coming on this morning. Really appreciate your perspective.

JENKINS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

All right. A lot to discuss now. This conversation is far, far from over. With me right now Keith Boykin, a political commentator, former Clinton White House aide, Scott Jennings, CNN political commentator and former special assistant to President George W. Bush.

I want to get you first, Keith, your reaction to what we heard from both of these players this morning?

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I thought they were very calm and graceful and articulating the cause for racial equality and social justice. They spoke in a way that I would like to see the president of the United States speak.

And they're talking about an issue that Colin Kaepernick raised which is about the mass incarceration of African-Americans, about the killing of black people, about racial profiling. That's what started this issue. This is about race.

President Trump went to Alabama last Friday and gave a speech to an almost exclusively white audience and told mostly rich white owners of professional sports teams how to control their young black men. That sounds like plantation politics.

That sounds like the politics of something from the 19th Century, not from the 21st Century. It's completely inappropriate for this man to call for the firing of private employees from a company that he has nothing to do with.

BOLDUAN: Scott, what do you think about what Keith just said?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, I think that the president is appealing to, frankly, a majority of Americans. There was a Reuters poll out last September, 72 percent of Americans said they disagree with Kaepernick's kneeling during the national anthem, over 60 percent thought it was unpatriotic.

So, what the president has a knack for doing is finding these cultural issues on which he knows a majority of people may see it his way and then he inserts himself into it and causes these divides.

And he drives people into their tribes and that is -- that's where he won the election in 2016, finding these cultural issues. I'm concerned about the tribalism in America and this is the latest example of it.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And Scott, I mean, they're kind of -- there are multiple things going on here but you hit on one here. Aside from the debate of whether or not to stand or kneel and what really is at the core of it, as Keith is getting to, can we agree on one thing, that the president is using this issue to divide rather than trying to use the issue to unite?


JENNINGS: Yes. He's trying to divide, absolutely. He's trying to divide people up and give them a binary choice. You either are a patriot because you want to stand during the national anthem or you're not.

And so, I think some people have nuanced views of this. Out here in Louisville, in the middle of the country, there are a lot of people that do view standing during the national anthem, standing for the pledge of allegiance and placing your hand over your heart they view these rituals as part and parcel to being an American.

[11:20:01] No matter where you go in the country, we do these things. Whether at an NFL game or kid's soccer game, if they play the national anthem, we stand up. When they see kneeling, protests people have a visceral reaction, they don't like it, and the polling does bear that out. So, the president does have underpinnings of public opinion in what he's saying.

BOLDUAN: If we're talking about kind of political strategy, Keith, on the part of the president here, if there's a strategy, I see a culture war I can jump in to and capitalize on it and the division can help him politically speaking. Is the left, I don't know, is the left taking the bait in being outraged of the topic de jour that president decided to insert himself into?

BOYKIN: Well, I'm reluctant to say yes to that because I think that people have said this is diversionary issue that Trump is raising.

BOLDUAN: Right. Throw a grenade somewhere else in order to avoid talking about something else --

BOYKIN: Doesn't want to talk about North Korea or the hurricanes, he wants to talk about this, while there are so many other crises going on. He criticized Obama for talking about sports, but he's willing to do it himself.

BOLDUAN: I'll actually get to that tweet in a second. Keep going.

BOYKIN: I just think that there's an inconsistency here and I think what the president is doing, yes, he's trying to divide us and use this as a wedge issue but these are important issues that need to be discussed.

Racism is a fundamental issue that has divided America since its founding and we've never really had a deep conversation about what this means and how we resolve this and move forward.

And so, we continue to put it off and have these mini debates from time to time, but we need to have a serious conversation. We have a white supremacist president of the United States. He's encouraging white supremacists and the fact it --

BOLDUAN: Are you really --

BOYKIN: You can debate that later but --

BOLDUAN: Don't throw the grenade, Keith, if you think he is a white supremacist? You really believe that this president is a white supremacist?

BOYKIN: It almost doesn't matter what I think or whether he is or not.

BOLDUAN: Words matter. You say this all the time.

BOYKIN: The reason I say this because he's encouraging and inciting these people. I mean, this is really about respect for the flag --

BOLDUAN: Is this different for you post-Charlottesville?

BOYKIN: That's the point I was going to make. If this is really about respect for the flag why didn't he call for those young white men in Charlottesville who are marching with the confederate flag to be fired from their jobs.

It's not about respect for the flag. It's about fanning the flames of racial hatred and this president is a master of that and that's the reason he's playing plantation politics. He thinks he is a slave master of black people in the NFL of black people in the country.

He's attacking Jamele Hill and Colin Kaepernick and Steph Curry, black athletes and black sports figures, but he doesn't want to attack the white supremacist and Ku Klux Klan members in Charlottesville.

BOLDUAN: But purely on the point, Scott, what is the point here? And Keith pointed to Citizen Trump disagrees with President Trump on this. Trump Twitter October 2013, he tweets this, "President" meaning Obama, "should not be telling the Washington Redskins to change their name.

Our country has far bigger problems. Focus on them, not nonsense." I mean, if that isn't apples to apples right now, what is? I mean, what do you do with this, Scott?

JENNINGS: Well, I don't know that it is apples to apples. I mean, I think he became the president of the United States and to some degree sees himself as the steward of what it means to be an American and part of what --

BOLDUAN: Right. But he's saying -- but he --

JENNINGS: -- in a lot of people's eyes is we stand for the national anthem. We stand up for these civic rituals.

BOLDUAN: But the point that Citizen Trump is making in that tweet in 2013 is it's not the place for the president to be inserting himself in call it culture war or whatever you want into an issue facing the NFL?

JENNINGS: Yes. He would hardly be the first president to take a contradictory position to one that he had previously before he became the president. But again, I think it's important to realize this is not the first time he has inserted himself into one of these cultural issues and you made a point earlier, Kate, which is important, people do take the bait.

People take the bait and play right into his hands. I guarantee you President Trump wants some of the players to kneel. I read on Twitter today that I think 12 percent of players kneeled, which means 88 percent did not.

But the players that kneel are getting all this attention today and we're seeing people freak out today, but this is not the first time on one of these cultural issues that it's happened. It won't be the last time.

Every time that it happens, the president I think seems to get the better of it because this is the conversation he's trying to ferment, pitting sort of the majority of Americans who see these cultural issues his way, against the people who take the bait every single time.

BOYKIN: You're missing the point, Scott. It's really not even about whether the president is winning or losing in politics. It's about the country, our republic. Our constitution enshrines in the First Amendment the right to freedom of speech and protest.

Dr. Martin Luther King said in 1968 before he was assassinated, the night before he was assassinated somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. This what is these people are doing.

They're exercising their rights. For the president of the United States or any political or elected official to tell people how they can or cannot be an American, is a violation of the fundamental norms of what our country makes -- what makes our country great. If you want to make America great again tell the president of the United States to bud out of the United States Constitution.

[11:25:10] BOLDUAN: One of the big things that I think is a very big question none of us can answer right now.

JENNINGS: I totally agree people have a right to protest. I agree with Keith, people have a right to protest.

BOYKIN: And we don't need the president telling them to be fired when they do.

BOLDUAN: We'll leave it right there. Big question going forward what happens at the next game, where does the conversation go. I think that's the point that Malcolm Jenkins had and one to take away.

It's one thing to have this conversation in response to what the president has said. It's another thing to really get out there in the community and speak to your lawmakers and see real change happen and these real conversations occur.

Great having you guys on. I appreciate it, Keith, Scott, always.

Coming up for us, breaking news, we are following on the escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea. North Korea just accused President Trump of declaring war. We have details on this, what it means, coming up next.

Plus, the GOP's last-minute attempt to overhaul Obamacare once and for all. It's at serious risk right now of coming up short. Senator Ted Cruz says he's a no. Where do things stand? That's coming up.