Late-Night Hosts Claim Trump-NFL Anthem Debate "Has Everything to Do With Race"

Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and more took on the president's tweets about kneeling athletes and the subsequent response.

After a weekend of tweeting and demonstrations sparked by President Donald Trump's opposition to players kneeling during the national anthem, the late-night hosts weighed in on the debate on Monday night.

Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers were just some of the comedians who took on Trump's tweets and the subsequent response, all of them agreeing that despite the president's comments and tweets to the contrary, the issue of kneeling during the anthem "has everything to do with race."

"Just like your presidency," Colbert added on CBS' Late Show. "Those players are protesting racial injustice. They're not protesting the American flag. You do realize the civil-rights activists weren't sitting at lunch counters for better grilled cheese?"

Daily Show host Trevor Noah said something similar, pointing out how former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who made headlines for taking a knee during the national anthem last year, changed his protest from sitting to kneeling, reportedly as a tribute to fallen soldiers.

"You see, Kaepernick changed his protest to take a knee because clearly he does respect the troops," Noah said. "And still, President Trump called him out in a way that he never did to the Nazis in Charlottesville. So in my opinion, this has everything to do with race."

Earlier, Noah drew a sharper contrast between Trump's comments about kneeling athletes and Charlottesville.

"Just so we're on the same page, when Nazis were protesting in Charlottesville, Trump said, some of these were very fine people," Noah explained. "But then when black football players protest peacefully by taking a knee during the national anthem, he calls them 'sons of bitches' who should be fired. I don't know if Trump is racist, but I do know he definitely prefers white people to black people. I can say that with confidence."

He also pointed out how many of Trump's comments, such as insulting John McCain and the family of fallen soldier Humayun Khan, are truly disrespectful to the country.

"These players aren't trying to disrespect the country. They're trying to peacefully protest police treatment of black people in America. If they wanted to disrespect the country, they wouldn't kneel silently, they would do crazy things like insult Gold Star families or make fun of POWs like John McCain or say that America is morally equivalent to Putin's Russia," Noah said, as headlines flashed of Trump doing those things. "That's the kind of shit they would do if they were trying to disrespect the country."

Noah even devoted a second segment to asking the question, "When is the right time for black people to protest?"

He found himself wondering that after Trump's comments and tweets and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin saying that players can exercise their First Amendment rights on their own time or off the field.

"Unless you're ESPN commentator Jemele Hill, criticizing the president on your private Twitter feed, then that is a fireable offense too," Noah said, referencing an earlier Trump controversy.

Noah also took issue with Stevie Wonder and black NFL players being called "ungrateful" by conservative commentators for taking a knee.

"Ungrateful to whom? This idea that black people should be grateful is some sneaky ass racism. Yeah because when a white billionaire spends a year screaming that America is a disaster, he's in touch with the country. But when a black man kneels quietly he should be grateful for the successes America has allowed him to have? How is that ungrateful? I don't understand," Noah said. "It almost feels like white people earn the money but black people are given it."

Noah ended the segment by trying to answer his question with a racially inspired rendition of Green Eggs and Ham.

"It's wrong to do it in the streets, it's wrong to do it in the tweets. You cannot do it on the field. You cannot do it if you've kneeled. And don't do it if you're rich, you ungrateful son of a bitch. Because there's one thing that's a fact. You cannot protest if you're black."

On NBC's Late Night, both host Seth Meyers and writer Amber Ruffin took on Trump's comments.

Meyers pointed out, as other comedians did, that many of the NFL owners who sided with their players and disagreed with Trump had backed Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

"This is a reminder that supporting Trump is a lot like robbing a bank, just when you think you got away with it, the dye pack explodes," Meyers said.

He then explained how Trump's latest comments are illustrative of Trump's racism: "By now it should be clear to everybody who Donald Trump is and what he represents. When black athletes peacefully protest racism and police brutality, Trump has no trouble summoning his outrage. But when white supremacists march with Nazi flags and confederate flags through the streets of an American city, he equivocates and then defends them."

Ruffin also called out Trump for his racially motivated criticism.

"This is about racial inequality. If you have a problem with black people loudly and silently protesting, what you have a problem with is black people," she said. "What is your ideal form of protest? Write down our complaints, put 'em in a bottle and throw 'em in the fucking ocean? Would you like it if our complaints were mournfully sung in an old negro spiritual?

"Trump is trying to make sure to let black people know that if we don't fall in line, we will be punished," she added. "Well guess what? If slavery didn't break us, this idiot certainly can't."

Meyers also argued that Trump's tweets were designed to distract people from other issues, like the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the effort to push through the Graham-Cassidy health care bill.

"This weekend was in many ways the perfect distillation of Trump's presidency, feeding his base cultural and racial resentments to keep them on his side while his team of corrupt authoritarians tries to swindle hard-working Americans out of their health care," Meyers said.