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Sports, Protest And President Trump. Aired 11-Midnight ET

Aired September 25, 2017 - 23:00   ET





DON LEMON, CNN TONIGHT NEWS SHOW HOST: Donte, clearly, what happened Friday night changed the conversation for so many players. That was a breaking point, correct?

DONTE STALLWORTH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I believe so. When the President came out Friday evening in Huntsville, Alabama and had those remarks, calling the players SOBs, saying they should be fired or yanked off the field, he'd done a number of things. He attacked the NFL as a whole, players individually, and he also attacked the NFL as a business, which obviously affects the owners. And there's been a number of owners who have donated a substantial amount of money to his campaign, to his inauguration. And he put them in a position where they had to either stand with him or stand be their players and their business interests. And we all see where that led him -- where that led the owners. They obviously stood with their players and their business interests and not with the President of the United States --

LEMON: So do you think, Donte, for the owners about the bottom line and not out of the goodness of their heart, they're standing up for the right thing?

STALLWORTH: No, I do believe that they have great relationships with their players, a lot of their players and personal relationships with their players. But at the same time they're also running a business. And that can't be refuted. They are running a multi-million dollar business. And so they also are obviously looking out for their players, but at the same time they're looking out for their best business interests. And when those two coincide in opposition to what the President's saying, for them, that is a no-brainer.

LEMON: Jack, how might this be playing out in the locker room? Especially when you have a number of owners who supported the President before, but how is this playing out among teams and with the owners or even the coaches or whomever who may have supported this President? What's that look like right now?

JACK BREWER, FORMER NFL PLAYER: I think it's definitely uniting the locker rooms. Right now these players are coming together. I mean they're locking arms. I mean this is ridiculous. And Don, I want to tell you, thank you, man, for keeping the topic out there. This thing is not about the flag. It's about this man calling these grown men, these sons, these community leaders -- I mean every time something happens in this country the National Football League stands by our military. Look at what they did for the Harvey relief efforts, the number of programs the National Football League players are running around the world. It is total embarrassment to have a president stand up and call this men son of bitches, these men are leaders of our country, and we need to respect them as such.

LEMON: What do you think, Mark, about all this? I spoke to you about this and I'm speaking to you again. It doesn't seem to be getting any better except for the players, I mean with the president.

MARVIN WASHINGTON, FORMER NFL PLAYER: This is the first time I've ever seen of owners, NFL P.A., coaches and players come together. So he is brought the NFL together because he is attacked them on a personal level and on a business level. So where do we go from here? I hope we go from protests to a solution or progress. Because this conversation is far from ending, even though I wish it was. Because we have more important things to talk about. We have a humanitarian crisis happening in Puerto Rico.

LEMON: More immediate things to talk about.

WASHINGTON: Yeah, over the long-term. I think it's going to come from the local cities and municipalities and having community forums with law enforcement, first responders and the teams, bringing that together. And hopefully we can have some improvement in the relationships now.

LEMON: So let me ask you, well, it took one person to stand up. And that was Colin Kaepernick. Hasn't gotten a job. Everyone's meeting -- everyone except for Colin Kaepernick.

WASHINGTON: You know, Colin's work might not be in the NFL. With his charity work, it's going to be bigger than anything he ever accomplished in the NFL. I'll be more happy if one of them took a chance and signed Colin Kaepernick, because there's no way there's 90 quarterbacks better than him in the NFL right now.

LEMON: Donte, I want you to watch this. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said this yesterday.


[23:05:00] STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY: I don't think it is a question of a fight that the president wants to have. He thinks this is about respect for the military, and so many people who put their lives at risk in what the country stands for. And the owners should meet, and they should decide on this rule the way they decide on any other rule. Again, you know, as long as I can remember people have stood in honor of the country. This isn't about the politics. If people want to talk politics off the field when they're not working for the NFL, they have the absolute right to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: So explain, Donte, what it is like to be in a league where the

majority of the players are minorities but the owners and the front office are like.

STALLWORTH: I think when you, at least when I was drafted in 2002 for the New Orleans, Saints, it was my dream. I wasn't thinking about anything, but playing for the New Orleans Saints and going touchdown and help my team won football games. The older you get, the more you start to understand the business of the NFL and the inner workings of how the NFL works. And especially as you get older and you see how younger players are kind of acclimated and brought in to the fraternity so to speak. You get a better understanding of the operations of the NFL, the background. So I would say that probably most of the players don't really think much of it, but I would say more so now today with everything that is going on, you know the social justice situations all through starting with Trayvon Martin, Ferguson obviously individual in the (inaudible), players have been much more aware of what has been going on. The players have been out there. Doug Baldwin from the Seattle Sea Hawks has done a great job. He is met with the chief of the police department in Seattle. He is spoken and had meetings with the Washington state Attorney General's office. These guys are -- and again, Doug Baldwin is one of many. A number of players have been moving this needle. And so they just see the President as another obstacle. They've done a great job of making sure this narrative isn't taken away by the President, and it stays where it was always meant to be in the very beginning, and that is for social justice issues that Colin Kaepernick initially stated.

LEMON: Marvin, Jack, Donte, thank you. I really appreciate the conversation. I want to bring in now CNN Contributor Salena Zito, CNN Political Commentator Keith Boykin and David Swerdlick and Larry Sabato, Director, Center for Politics, University of Virginia. Here we go, guys. Thank you so much for coming on. The President says 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. But isn't this entire discussion about black men protesting racial injustice and is that, if that is not about patriotism, then what is? What is he talking about, David?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, Don, yeah, the President tweeted this out. He wants to change the topic. There is a discussion that can be had about the right way to protest, how to respect the flag and being a patriot and someone fighting for social change at the same time. The problem as it has been so frequently with President Trump is he is not an honest broker on issues of race and gender. So when he tries to change the subject away from the under lying subject of Colin Kaepernick's protest, which is police violence and police community relations particularly in the African- American community and toward what his view of the right patriotic way to address the national anthem, he just doesn't have the footing or the credibility, because of everything else, birtherism, Judge Curiel, the things we talk about every night on your program, Don, that it's clearly trying to get away from the real issues at hand. And not address what all Americans, including his African-American constituents have been saying for months, years, weeks, days and centuries. LEMON: I've heard so many people, Keith, try to conflate this in to

an issue about the flag. And I found myself yelling at the television this weekend and today at commentators on all the networks. This is about my father or my grandfather fought in a war and you're disrespecting. A lot of those players who are African-American, their parents and grandparents also fought in wars and came back from those wars and could not vote, could not get a job, could not get an education, and were not treated as full Americans. So why is that a priority for one group and not a priority for the other group? Those people are patriots, too. No one has a license on patriotism.

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because it's not about the flag, Don. I mean look at what happen tonight, when Jerry Jones and the members of the Dallas Cowboys melt before the game tonight.

[23:10:06] They were still booed even though there was no flag on the field and there was no national anthem being played. If it was clearly not about the flag, Donald Trump would have done something or said something about the people who were waving confederate flags in Charlottesville and demanded they be fired from their jobs. But instead what he did is he went to Alabama, to nearly an all-white audience and told them and told mostly white owners of the NFL teams how to control their young black buck, how to control their black athletes. And this is about plantation politics that you see from the 19th century. The idea of the President of the United States telling people to fire private employees, private American citizens for exercising their constitutional rights, and the majority of those American citizens happen to be African-American, it's terribly troubling. It's racial politics. Nothing it to with the flag. It's all about Donald Trump's use of politics to try to insight his base.

LEMON: OK. So for those who believe, somehow -- this is about the flag, Salena, this is about the flag and the country as the President says, why would he slam the loss of confederate statues that represent people who fought to secede from the country under their own flag?

SALENA ZITO, WASHINGTON EXAMINER STAFF: I have no idea. I could not speak to what is in his heart. I will say this to you, I do believe after talking to a lot of people about this issue, this issue was really hard hit in Pittsburgh because Villanova standing there alone, the optics weren't good. And it wasn't something that made anybody feel very good. Villanova, the players, the people that were trying to watch the game. You say that it's not about the flag, and you get angry about that. But for some I think its ok for it to be about both things, right? I think its ok for it to be about protesting, you know, injustices and problems with how police handle people in the community and how they interact with people. And it can also be something patriotic for someone. It can mean that, and they're not necessarily wrong. That is just what it means to them. It's sort of part of how they were brought up, whether they had --

LEMON: Salena, I have to disagree with you. No, it's wrong. Then they're misguided. Just because you believe something that is a fact that is not true, it doesn't mean that you are right, that means that you are misguided.

ZITO: That is not what I'm saying.

LEMON: Colin Kaepernick says a number of times this is not about the military, this is not about the flag, but focusing on racial injustice. But if someone believes that, then they're believing something that is not true, go on.

ZITO: No, no, you're misunderstanding what I'm saying.

LEMON: I'm sorry. Go on.

ZITO: So they understand why -- a lot of people said this to me today. Look, I understand why he is protesting. I think he incredibly legitimate things to say. I just don't want it done at the same time the national anthem is being played, because I just don't think that is respectful. So it's not that they think he is protesting the flag. They don't think that at all. They just don't like it's happening at the same time the national anthem is playing, and I think that both sides have a legitimate argument to make, and both sides, I think -- you know, we need to stop talking past each other. I think it's important that we both sides listen to each other.

LEMON: Yes. And I'm just being handed something. Larry, as I read, there's new information coming in about a private dinner at the NFL tonight. There's no mistake that Trump's NFL comments are politically useful in a 70 percent white electorate, just like Nixon's strategy won the White House.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Look, that is true, look there is no race, and there is no issue like the race issue, that is true throughout American history. It's been true with all American Presidents one or another. But you have to consider context. The context of Donald Trump is as a divider not a uniter. And that has been true throughout his career, not just during his political career. From the central park controversy involving African-Americans and Hispanics incorrectly accused of crimes to birtherism.

[23:15:06] President Obama never got an apology from him, to Charlottesville. Donald Trump capitalizes on race whenever he has the opportunity to do so and then denies it has anything to do about race, which of course puts race front and center. So this all is of a pattern. It is Donald Trump's history. You have to consider the context of his career. It just doesn't make any sense to claim that it is not racial for him. Salina, it may be true that some of these people that you're talking to, average fans may have a different motivation. But for Donald Trump it's very political, and it is about race.

SWERDLICK: Can I just jump in? And Salena, I just want to say one thing. This relates to what Larry said a second ago. Listen to what President Trump said last year on the campaign trail, just real quick, African-Americans citizens have sacrificed so much for this nation. They have not and died in every war since the revolution. And from the pews and the picket lines have lifted up the conscience of our country. That was candidate Trump when he was trying last fall -- BOYKIN: He didn't say that. Somebody wrote that --

SWERDLICK: Wait, slow down, Keith. What I'm saying is that was candidate Trump trying to reassure people that he wasn't biased or he didn't harbor racial hostility towards African-Americans. Once he is elected he now turns around and is quite willing as Larry was saying to go after African-American players. He is willing to say whatever it takes, and in this case he is willing to play this wedge issue where he knows it is going to rile people up and do the exact opposite of what you're calling for, Salena which is people talking to each other not past each other.

ZITO: Right, and what I was talking about, patriotism and protesting, I was trying to take -- it's kind of difficult -- trying to take Trump out of the equation and try and talk to you what people were saying and how they felt about the moment.

LEMON: Listen, I want to get this now reporting in, guys. Here's what it is. This is from a meeting. The President had a private dinner on the NFL issue. President Trump sounded very satisfied on his comments in the NFL and Patriotism according a person who attended the dinner. It's really caught on. It's really caught on, Trump said, his NFL comments to attendees at the dinner. I said what millions of Americans were thinking, he continued to a person in the room. You could really tell he was satisfied, this person in the room said about the President's comments. Trump also lashed out, two of his favorite targets Arizona Senator McCain and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump described McCain as a disgrace on health care, this attendee said. As for Sessions, Trump said the Attorney General should have never recused himself in the Russian investigation. You can tell he still has disdain for this guy, the attendee at the dinner said. The room was a little uncomfortable, he really pounded him, and the person went on to say, on tax reform, Trump offered some marketing advice for the attendees of the dinner. Just call it tax cuts, Trump argued. It sounded convoluted -- it sounds convoluted when you call it tax reform the person at the dinner quoted Trump as saying. There you go.

BOYKIN: This is guy -- we're suffering from hurricanes right now, people in Puerto Rico are suffering from that, the U.S. Virgin islands. We are dealing with North Korea in a verge of a nuclear catastrophe. The health care reform bill, the replacement bill he is trying to do is disaster. It's about to fail this week. And he is obsessed with talking about NFL and sports teams.

LEMON: He is talking about himself. I am happy with the way I responded.

BOYKIN: It's all about him.

LEMON: I got to go.

BOYKIN: He is comfortable being divisive, like Larry said.

LEMON: Thank you all. When we come back, one of the biggest heroes in the history of American sports famously took a stand on his believes and pay the price. Listen to Mohamed Ali who was stripped from his title and banned from boxing after he refused to be drafted during the Vietnam War.


MOHAMED ALI, BOXING CHAMPION: Because right now black people, they don't have the nerve to say what I'm saying, and they're just so happy to see a black man who will stand up and jeopardize every quarter he is got to tell the truth. Other fighters they just don't take part. They make millions of dollars to get him a nice home, get him a white wife. Well, I made it, and the rest of them catching hell, and he won't say nothing.

[23:20:05] But when one man of popularity connect the world with the problem, he might lose a few dollars himself telling the truth, might lose his life, but he is helping millions.


LEMON: Tonight much more on the protests in American sports. Plus, I'm going to speak to a star athlete who took a stand. Olympian Tommie Smith is here to weigh in on President Trump to war on the NFL.


LEMON: The fire storm over President Trump's war on the NFL spreading from coast to coast. Tonight the Dallas Cowboys taking a knee before the singing of the national anthem. Followed by the Cowboys along with the Arizona Cardinal's players, owners and coaches locking arms in a sign of unity. But taking a knee or raising a fist is nothing new for athletes standing up for their beliefs. There is a long history of protest in American sports. What's new is this President has managed to unite players and owners in opposition to his comment. CNN's Miguel Marquez has more.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many players and owners linking arms in solidarity, others taking a knee. Three teams, in fact, staying in the locker room.

MARQUEZ: Even those singing the anthems. In Nashville and Detroit. All this protest from a trickle started by San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick, who took his team to the super bowl. Last year taking a knee in protest of police treatment of African-Americans. Kaepernick who now can't find a job in the NFL.

TRUMP: 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? Out. He is fired.

MARQUEZ: The President unleashed this torrent of protest with his own words.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The things that frustrated me and passed me off a little bit is he used sports platform to try and divide us.

MARQUEZ: Protests now spreading to baseball and now the NBA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President has galvanized players of all backgrounds, of all believes.

MARQUEZ: Protests and sports have a long history. In 1967 Mohamed Ali was stripped of his world heavyweight title and banned from boxing for three years after refusing to be drafted during the Vietnam War. A year later U.S. Olympians Tommie Smith and John Calrose protesting poverty and violence against African-Americans. Lowering their heads and raising their gloved fists while the national anthem played. In 1996, Denver Nugget (inaudible) refusing to stand for the national anthem, eventually openly praying during it in protest of the U.S.'s treatment of Muslims. In 2004 Toronto Blue Jay Carlos Delgado refused to stand for God Bless America to protest of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq. In 2010 the Phoenix Suns wore suns on their jerseys in protest of a draconian Arizona immigration law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The system is broke.

MARQUEZ: And last year, four of the NBA biggest stars took to the stage of the SP's. Speaking about policing, race and gun violence.

[23:25:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The violence is not new, the problem is not new and the racial divide is definitely not new.

MARQUEZ: What is new, the President has done something rare.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am pissed off, I will be honest with you. You know because I supported Donald Trump.

MARQUEZ: Alienating some of his supporters in the sports world and galvanizing the NFL against him, even five time super bowl champ Tom Brady.

TOM BRADY, QUARTERBACK NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: I certainly disagree with what he said, and thought it was just divisive.

MARQUEZ: President Trump in a single comment super charging a protest the sports world has never seen. Miguel Marquez, CNN, Los Angeles.


LEMON: Great job. Thank you, Miguel. Now, I want to bring in Tommie Smith, who you saw in Miguel's piece, famously protested at the Olympics in 1968. So good to see you again. How are you doing?


LEMON: Thank you for coming on. Your protest at the '68 Olympics in Mexico City considered one of the most iconic sports moments. How do you think the protests we're seeing in the NFL compare to your own protest? Can you compare them? SMITH: The platform, Don, is basic. The need to be heard is

certainly something that is very necessary. And to see the athletes stand for the right to be heard, stand as men and women to be heard because their job or jobs that nature of this country is work, the nature of this country is the first amendment. And I think the right of the athlete is very pounding for the sake of the life in this country, and it's good to be heard.

LEMON: What do you think - I am sure you had heard them. It's kind of the same argument. Leave the politics, the personal feelings off the field or off the playing field or what have you. What do you make of that argument?

SMITH: Well, it's a situation that is been going on for a long time. There are those that believe you have a good job, keep your mouth shut, and make your money and kiss your kids. But I think the responsibility of those who are in these positions have to step out. And sacrifice is something people are afraid of, but it's necessary for a country to grow. Disseminating the American flag is not a hate, but a nurturing implication that no matter how great one is or country is, there's always room for advancement, the room to continue to look for that perfection avenue to move forward. And those who talk against being on the platform for change but might not be liked because of the way they bring it about, I think those are people that comic books are very, very need for including our leader of today, which is very difficult to understand.

LEMON: Would you think that 50 years later we'd be having the same -- I mean it's the same argument. We've made progress in some ways, but we haven't in other ways. And it's the same thing.

SMITH: Yeah, my goodness, half a century ago, when Tommie Smith and Jim Carlos took the stand, dealing with issues directly on campus housing, scholarships, Mohamed Ali's issue, these were injected into a moment of moving forward. And of course being 50 years later, the situation is still is here, but it's rising to a more fashionable instant that athletes are banding together, owners have banding together, locking arms to indicate a need for conversation, to indicate a need for the communicative attitude in moving forward. You're not going to like everybody, but I think everybody should understand the need to move forward by conversation. And it's impending to actually understand that type of road. Because it's very necessary to move forward in this country.

LEMON: Here's what I think. This is just my gut. I don't think Colin Kaepernick realizes the moment right now, realizes his power. I think he was very brave to do it. You may not like it, some people disagree -- again, that is your right. But I think he will end up being remembered for this even more so than he had just kept his mouth shut and been a quarterback and being a great quarterback. This maybe more impactful to the society and the country and the world than just playing great football.

SMITH: He did sacrifice of course, I think his heart spoke louder than the silence that most people think he should had. I mean the key came up to a lot of important moments of his life. And he did this even before. He was just recognized at during this at

a later time. And the athletes began to understand why he was doing this, and began to put together their own criteria of the need to help, because they feel the same way. It's not hard to put your feelings out front if you are serious about important fact of life, and that is being your own person under the law, under the first amendment.

Colin, yes, he did something he really didn't know, like most of us, that it would have these kinds of implications later on in life. But that is what living is all about. You can't sit there and kiss your kids, make your money. You're responsible. You owe that challenge you had back to the people who gave it to you. And it's up to you to make it better for others behind you because the system must grow. It grew with you, John, and it's going to grow with a lot of athletes, especially the professional athletes. And people, we must stick together or we're going to fall apart. Because we're certainly on bridge that is open and closed by a person that does not care how far you fall.

LEMON: I think you sort of answered my next question, but I want you to dig a little bit deeper. Do you have a message for athletes that are protesting or just in general?

SMITH: In general, you have a responsibility. Govern yourself accordingly. Don't forget your fate. Without work, it's dead. And that is biblical. So you've got to move forward, be honest in your feelings, and love your neighbor.

LEMON: Tommie Smith. Love having you on. Good luck.

SMITH: My pleasure, Don.

LEMON: I'll see you in the next 50 years. We'll be talking.


When we come back, the football now apologizing to his team for standing during the national anthem while the rest of them stayed in the locker room.


[23:36:09] LEMON: The Pittsburgh Steelers player who stood alone during the national anthem during Sunday's game says that gesture was not what it seemed. A retired army ranger and veteran of combat in Afghanistan apologized to his teammates today. Saying he didn't intend to stand alone and he is not offended by other players kneeling. CNN Jason Carroll has more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, this national anthem ordeal has been out of control. And I think there's a lot to blame on myself. And I want to address it. JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And with that Pittsburgh

Steelers linesman and army veteran Alejandro Villanueva the player for some had become a patriotic symbol said he need to set the record straight. He says he never intended to stand alone saying much of the public's perception of him is the result of a misunderstanding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't give him an opportunity to stand with me, during the national anthem. That is very embarrassing part on my end. Because when everyone sees an image of me standing by myself, everyone thinks the team is not behind me. Actually the entire team would have been out there with me.

CARROLL: Villanueva he feels responsible in part as he described it for butchering the plan. Here is how the Steelers say it happen. It began with the team discussing how to respond to President who called on owners to fire players who refuse to stand for the national anthem as a way to protest racial equality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had some people who wanted to stand, kneel, some people that wanted to sit. So we would what can we do to stay together, and we felt that the best thing everybody was together with was stand together in the tunnel.

CARROLL: Stand in the tunnel leading to the field, that was the plan, it was decided the Villanueva an Army vet would stand in front and the team would be just behind him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it sort of morphed to accommodate this tough moral dilemma to be behind me in the tunnel.

CARROLL: The team said, an unexpected flag in the tunnel along with some bare stands altered their plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we came out of the tunnel, it was a very small area. There was a flag or something coming off the field. So there was a bunch of fans going off the field, so it kind of held us up. And as we started to take our steps, the anthem started.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As I turned around to sort of signal everyone else, that is when they were essentially unable to exit. So at the moment it's do you walk out and join your teammates. I knew that would have looked bad, so do you just move forward. So we just butchered our plan to sort of how to respond for the national anthem.

CARROLL: The image fans saw was Villanueva, seemingly the lone team member standing for the anthem while others stayed behind. Almost instantly Villanueva's jersey became a top seller as some fan criticize the rest of the team for being unpatriotic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a $450 leather jacket. Watch me burn it.

CARROLL: Some fans turning in their Steelers colors of black and gold for something they saw as more fitting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have Steelers clothes and earrings I kind of dressed in red, white, and blue. CARROLL: The one bright spot to some fans critical with the team,


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very impressed Villanueva was out there by himself. I thought that said a lot about him.

[23:40:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself, I feel embarrassed. I unintentionally I left my teammates behind. It never planned to boycott the plan the Steelers came up with. I just thought there was some middle ground I could stand in the tunnel.

CARROLL: Don Villanueva also said that he says he is not offended by or does he object to anyone taking the knee as a form of protest of racial injustice. As for the Steelers going forward when they take on the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, the team's captain says they will be on the field for the national anthem. Don.

LEMON: Jason carol, thank you so much, sir. When we come back, the message the President is sending to African-Americans when he dismisses the protests and claims they are about respect for the flag.


LEMON: The White House today defending President Trump's war on the NFL saying this isn't about being against anyone. It's about him - about him being for honoring our flag. Here to discuss CNN political commentator Symone Sanders, Marc Lamont Hill, Ben Ferguson and Shermichael Singleton. So Marc, I'm not sure you saw the start of the show tonight, but why is the President and the administration conflating this as some sort of anti-patriotic flag, anti-military -- I mean this is not what this is about?

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, it never has been. This has been an attempt to call for justice, put a spotlight on the suffering of brown and black people, but somehow it's morphed into an attack on the flag. And the President has decided that he along with many other people can determine how people protest what protests look like. And it's something very troublesome particularly in the American history, which is long tradition of trying to tell black folks how to respond to injustice.

[23:45:18] LEMON: What's interesting is that you saw Jason Carroll's piece before, people see what they want to see in that. If you listen to the people, some people saw oh, he was great, standing up. Yet he is apologizing saying I left my teammates behind, I did not show unity. So is this like a racial sports war shot test?

LAMONT HILL: That is exactly what it is. Black people saw it as resistance. Other people saw like a patriotism with Kaepernick, when it comes to Villanueva, some people saw somebody standing up against those evil communist football players. Other people saw it as guys got stuck in the tunnel. You know people see what they want to see, this happen with O.J. any racial issue in America, we see it along different lines and those lines are often draw --

LEMON: He says it's not about race, Shermichael.

SHERMICHAEL SINGELTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think it indicates how through different ethnicities we all see things through different lenses. When I am most concerned about with President Trump particularly as a conservative is that I recognized when one is running for office, I get it. You play to those partisan lines. But once you get elected, you represent everybody. And I know we continue to drive this message home over and over again. But I'm so disappointed and I am so embarrassed by the President. Because as a conservative, how can I go to other African-Americans and say consider the platform of conservatism or any group when the President of the Party I belong to when he consistently time and time again divides the country? For Republicans at some point I think more have to speak up and say, Mr. President, you were elected to do a job. We're not focused on any of the issues that impact people day to day, because the President feels it's necessary to get in the middle of these cultural wedge issues. Stay away from them. Your history on these issues is horrific, horrible. Focus on what matters. Tax reform, health care, these natural disasters, foreign policy, I e, North Korea, Iran. Those are the things that Donald Trump was elected on. He was not elected to focus on cultural wage issue. Every time he does, he hurts himself.

LEMON: Can you say that louder for the people in back who didn't hear? Go ahead.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So I agree with what my colleague said, but black people who are repeatedly met with injustice is not a wedge issue. Because we continue to talk about it as a quote-unquote wedge issue, we can't get past it. Donald Trump has been a racist. He came to political prominence by questioning the first African-American President of the United States. The Republican Party knew exactly who he was and embraced him anyway.

SINGELTON: Symone, I actually do agree and I think my party does share some blame here. When Donald Trump ran as a President, I wrote several articles on him, including one that ultimately got me fired. I hoped some things would change when he became president. Those things did not change. The Republican Party saw with their own eyes they saw serious flaws within this person. But because Republican had opted for quote-unquote political gains, which they thought would be expedient, which we have not seen. And for whatever reason, they don't say anything. This is bigger than Party. This is not Republican, Democrat, not black, not white. This is about this country and if people don't begin to speak up, particularly leaders and lead us in a direction that unites us --


LEMON: You're talking about conservatives, though, that need to speak up --


LEMON: So, Ben, he is talking to you. BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: All right good finally I get

to hear all that. I hope you all will actually listen to point you're completely missing. The President of the United States of America criticized NFL players who are disrespecting the American flag. And a lot of people say oh, it's bigger now. Let's be clear --

LEMON: It is not about the flag Ben. Ben, Ben -- hold on, I'm going to let you talk.

FERGUSON: This is my perspective.

LEMON: I'm telling you it's not about the flag. Ben, I want to tell you this.

FERGUSON: Let me get my point --

LEMON: No, it's not about the flag. Colin Kaepernick said it's not about the flag. People are telling you it is not about the flag. That is what the president is saying because they want to frame it that way.

[23:50:01] FERGUSON: Let me know if you want to hear the other side. If you don't want to hear it, then let me at least explain it.

LEMON: I want to hear the truth Ben. Here is Shepherd Smith from Fox News earlier today.


SHEPHERD SMITH, FOX NEWS: It's very clear that for his base this is the red meat of all red meat, because they're able to reframe this. They're able to say, oh, they're attacking the national anthem. They're attacking the troops. They're attacking the flag, none of which they're doing. They're not doing any of that. They're upset about racial injustice in the country and they're upset about the things that the President has said and yet he is able to turn it around for his base. Isn't this all a play to his base? And could it possibly be so that they don't notice there is no health care and North Korea is the biggest mess since the cold war?


LEMON: Go ahead, Ben.

FERGUSON: Yeah. I strongly agree with Shepherd Smith and I think that is a conspiracy theory. So I will go back to my original point, the point here about yesterday is that a lot of the players that were out there protesting, let be clear, were not involved when Colin Kaepernick was doing this a year ago. A lot of them got involved, because they don't like Donald Trump so yesterday for all of them was not about police brutality. It was about not liking Donald Trump and that is why they got involved yesterday. Second point about this is I have no problem with people protesting whatever they want to protest, but there are consequences to your action. My real problem is not with the players. My problem is with the NFL. The NFL is an organization that obviously really doesn't have a soul on any issue. They disrespect the flag but they want to have the flag out there to play to the base of their fans that are actually very patriotic people. They also claim they're going to stand next to the players, but they also stand next to the players that beat their wives and girlfriends and help in covering up --

LEMON: Ben, what does this --


SINGELTON: African Americans are not patriotic, because they're protesting? That is absolutely absurd to me.

FERGUSON: I didn't --


SINGELTON: That is what you're singling.

FERGUSON: I didn't say about racial --

LEMON: Let him finish.


FERGUSON: There are white people involved in the protests here. This is not have to always be about race.

LEMON: I'm not making it about race, Ben.

SANDERS: This is absolutely about black people who have been met with injustice in this country. This is about the fact that black and brown people are being targeted, are being killed, losing their lives in police custody and then the officers are walking free. This is about the fact that Trayvon Martin -- no. This is absolutely about race and that is why Colin Kaepernick took a knee and when you have the current President of the United States --

LEMON: Let him respond.

SINGELTON: And inserts himself into the conversation.

FERGUSON: Why don't you call Colin Kaepernick --

LEMON: Let him respond.

FERGUSON: And tell Colin Kaepernick that if this is what it's about, why would you wear a t-shirt supporting Fidel Castro who is only in power because of brutality against people? He used the police to be brutal and to shut people up and to kill them and they disappear and go to prison and political dissidence. He wore a t-shirt honoring Fidel Castro.

SINGELTON: We can have a whole conversation about Cuba.

LEMON: Let him make his pointed. FERGUSON: The second thing is this. Colin Kaepernick, if you

actually don't lecture me, go talk to Colin Kaepernick and say don't be an idiot. Actually go out there and register to vote and be involved. If you're going to be a leader then maybe register to vote --

LEMON: Ben, Ben, Ben, you are outside of that talking point -

SINGELTON: Ben, Ben, wait a minute. As another conservative, outside of that talking point that he isn't registered to vote, Colin Kaepernick has invested a lot of money and a lot of time in the African-American community.

Wait a minute. I'm not going to allow you to sit on this TV and spread falsehoods --

FERGUSON: That is not falsehood.

SINGELTON: Wait a minute he has done a lot of things --

Wait a minute here. Part of the issue is that when African Americans are racing concerns about things that we believe are legitimate, some people in this society do not listen. That is a problem, Ben. You and I share many things in common as far as philosophical ideology is concerned so I as an African-American person am telling you my friend who happens to be a Republican, these are issues that concern me, please listen and join me to correct this issues and you ignore them, that is fundamentally problematic.

FERGUSON: I'm not ignoring it. If you want to go out there and protest, that is fine, but I'm telling you right now, the NFL is completely misunderstood the situation. There are certain things in life, and I'll give you a great example --

LEMON: Hold on, Ben.

SANDERS: The Baltimore ravens -- let me finish this point.

LEMON: I've let you talk.

FERGUSON: It's four against one.

LEMON: No. You've been talking for a long time.

FERGUSON: I have four people coming after me.


LEMON: I let you talk longer than everybody else because it's four against one, but make your point. I've got it get off the air soon. Hurry.

FERGUSON: All right.

SINGELTON: I want to talk too.

FERGUSON: Even the players for the Baltimore Ravens who went overseas and kneeled down as they are representing the national --

LEMON: I've gotten seconds left, Ben.

FERGUSON: The national football league stood up for god bless the queen and God Save the Queen that is called class.

[23:55:02] LEMON: Ben, you missed my opening statement. You don't get to tell people how to love this country and how to express themselves.

FERGUSON: I'm not telling them how to.

LEMON: Yes, you are.

LAMONT HILL: You have that right not to watch.

LEMON: Marc, go ahead. You get the last word.

FERGUSON: I can say I'm not going to give money to the NFL because I'm not going to --

LEMON: Ten seconds, Marc. Go ahead.

LAMONT HILL: You absolutely can do that, Ben, but I think the point here is that much of the conversation from the President and from other people has been telling black people how to protest, that their protests are inappropriate and somehow -- can I just say shout out to Shermichael for showing some -- have a little one-on-one.



LEMON: Thank you all. Great conversation. We appreciate it. I'll see you next time. That is it for us tonight. Thanks for watching us. I'll see you right back here tomorrow.