Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has weighed in on the controversial issue of protests by National Football League players during the national anthem — and is urging players to shift their focus to the victims of domestic violence. The Republican Governor on Monday sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, encouraging such a stand.
“It is time for players in the NFL to stop their protests during the anthem and move on from what has become a divisive political sideshow,” Walker wrote. “Instead, I encourage them to use their voices and influence to take a stand against domestic violence. With the NFL Fall League Meeting occurring tomorrow, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, now would be an especially opportune time to strongly condemn domestic violence and lead the charge in supporting safe families across America.”
Walker’s letter comes against a backdrop of numerous, highly reported instances of domestic violence involving NFL players, from former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice’s 2014 assault on his then-fiancée Janay Palmer, to former New York Giants kicker Josh Brown’s 2017 admission to domestic violence against his wife.
It also comes as players across the NFL continued to take a knee during the national anthem in Week 6 of the season, in a protest against racial inequality and police brutality against African-American men. And Sunday’s injury to Green Bay Packers starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers has some NFL observers suggesting that the Packers sign Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49er’s quarterback who originated the protest last year.
Kaepernick, a Milwaukee native who lived in Wisconsin until age four, is a free agent who remains unsigned by an NFL club. Kaepernick has retained an attorney and has filed a grievance under the latest collective bargaining agreement against NFL owners for collusion.
Walker’s letter is not the first instance of a politician inserting their voice into the protest. With Kaepernick not on a roster this season, a handful of other players had carried on his protest to little fanfare until September 24. That Sunday, more than 200 players sat or kneeled in response to President Donald Trump, who two days earlier had called for owners to fire the protesting players, who he referred to as “sons of bitches.” The protest also spread to the NBA, WNBA, NHL and MLB, with individual players taking a knee, locking arms or showing other signs of solidarity.
On October 8, Vice President Mike Pence left a game between the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers, after 49ers players knelt during the anthem, “because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.” Critics accused Pence of only attending the game in order to make a show of leaving it following the protest.
Walker, in his letter to Goodell and Smith, cited listening to the testimony of victims of domestic violence and their advocates at the Capitol in Madison last week. “As I sat and heard these amazing stories, it occurred to me that NFL players could have a remarkable impact on awareness and prevention efforts if each player would agree to speak out, as well as agree to take a personal stand, against domestic violence,” the governor wrote. “This is an issue that can unite people across America. My request is simple: stand for the American flag and the national anthem out of respect for those who risk their lives for our freedoms, and then take a stand against domestic violence to keep American families safe. That’s something we can all agree on, and that just might help the NFL reunite with many of its devoted fans.”
State Representative Melissa Sargent (D-Madison), in a statement, said that the NFL’s domestic violence problem has been well-documented, and that the governor’s letter is a political stunt.
“Scott Walker might not be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, but the rest of us can and should be able to do both,” Sargent wrote. “Dialogues about racism and domestic violence are not mutually exclusive, and we shouldn’t have to choose between tackling misogyny or domestic violence and systemic racism.”