Donald Trump and the Black Athlete

Donald Trump and the Black Athlete

O.K., sure. We cannot read any man’s mind.

It is important as well not to take on the role of yogis, bending so far backward that we pitch into outright credulity. Time and again, this president has questioned black intelligence. And from the former N.F.L. quarterback Colin Kaepernick to the transcendent point guard Stephen Curry, Trump seems to especially enjoy picking public fights with black athletes. Last year he journeyed to Alabama, a place with a historical valise of racial baggage, and offered advice to N.F.L. owners on handling those players who take a knee during the national anthem, players who were largely African-Americans protesting police violence and economic inequality: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!”

He mocked those same owners, most of them white, for going soft on the question of concussions and player brain damage: “Uh-oh, got a little ding on the head?”

In a curious and perhaps subconscious way, that circles back to Trump’s attacks on black intelligence. All of this finds a root in American history and culture. The eminent Stanford University historian George M. Fredrickson wrote a groundbreaking book, “The Black Image in the White Mind,” in which he documented the white obsession during the 19th and early 20th centuries with measuring the supposedly deficient size of black brains, the better to undergird “scientific racism.”

It has been salutary to watch black athletes and a smaller number of their white comrades show a keen awareness of the larger world, and speak up on matters of politics and culture.

As Trump has attacked black athletes, they have almost as often poked back at him. Last fall, when Curry said he might not attend a ceremony at the White House for the champion Golden State Warriors, Trump ripped Curry and disinvited the team. James, in turn, jumped to the defense of Curry, referring to Trump as “u bum” in a tweet. As athletes find their voice, it’s fair enough for politicians to take issue with their views. Trump’s default, however, is not to engage but to demean.

It speaks well of his wife, Melania, that she recognized James’s CNN interview and his generosity for what it was and praised the player in a statement on Saturday. She spoke of her desire to visit his I Promise school.

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