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Trump, Taking Aim At Athletes' Knees, Draws Musicians To The Floor, Too

Pharrell takes to his knees during the Concert for Charlottesville, at University of Virginia's Scott Stadium on Sunday.
Pharrell takes to his knees during the Concert for Charlottesville, at University of Virginia's Scott Stadium on Sunday.

Donald Trump has revivified the silent protest begun last year by football player Colin Kapaernick, who began to kneel during the performance of the national anthem at the beginning of football games to draw attention to racially motivated violence and unrest in the country.

Saturday night, music legend Stevie Wonder told the crowd gathered in Central Park: "Tonight, I'm taking a knee for America ... but not just one knee — I'm taking both knees." Wonder's brief speech was met with deafening applause.

Trump began the national anthem argument on Friday, telling an Alabama audience Friday night during a stump speech, to enthusiastic applause, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now'?"

In 17 tweets or retweets since that remark, Trump has directed withering criticism at players and the NFL over players' participation in the kneeling protest, praised NASCAR, called for a boycott of the sports league and reprised his Apprentice catchphrase "you're fired" as a suggestion for team owners' response to players' participation. In doing so, Trump seems to have placed the bellows on an already divisive flame, igniting some strong words from musicians.

Trump made his remarks in parallel with two music events, the Global Citizen Festival — held in Central Park's Great Lawn to "spur music fans and change-makers alike to take action to help benefit the world's poor" — and A Concert For Charlottesville — a concert organized in response to the turmoil in that city last month. Both events drew high-profile artists to stages that were guaranteed to draw sizable attention. In reacting to Trump's comments, the protest begun by Kaepernick immediately reached a new high water-mark of visibility.

Performing in Charlottesville on Sunday night, Pharrell told the audience: "I'm in Virginia right now — I'm home. Nobody tell me what to do — if I want to get on my knees right now, for the people of my city, for the people of my state — that's what that flag is for."

Wonder also appeared in Virginia, extending his comments from Saturday. "I've seen people hating people. They tell the children who watch them to be good. I've seen people killing people in churches, mosques, synoagogues and temples. I've seen hate marching down the street disguised as a cry for equality. If I can see it, dammit, I know you can see it.

"But see it not with your eyes — feel it in your spirit, with your soul.

"So the question is — what are we going to do about it? To make a difference? We must, all of us in the world, be the difference."

According to Variety, 2.5 million tweets were sent on Sunday regarding #TakeAKnee and #TakeTheKnee.

The protest was spread across genres — and countries. Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder took a knee during a Tennessee performance; roots artist Rhiannon Giddens and her band dropped during a performance Sunday night in Nashville; John Legend did so during a tour stop in Hamburg, Germany; J. Cole praised athletes' participation and encouraged a counter-boycott of the NFL over Kaepernick's continued unemployment, which many conclude is due to the protest he began; Cardi B., the nascent rapper who today unseated Taylor Swift atop the Hot 100, asked "when are they going to hire Kaepernick?"; De La Soul's Posdnuos took part during a performance in Las Vegas; Meghan Linsey, a former contestant on The Voice, and her band ended their performance of the national anthem during Sunday's game between the Seahawks and the Titans by descending to one knee; national anthem singer Rico Lavelle did the same in Detroit, as well.

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