SportsPulse: USA TODAY’s Trysta Krick looks at how the political, social and racial divisions in America have manifested themselves in sports, and how it might be the only platform that can bring people together.

Bryant Gumbel, host of HBO’s “Real Sports” closed this week’s show by thanking President Donald Trump for causing athletes to “actually stand for something.”

During a speech in Alabama during the weekend, Trump called out the NFL to “fire” players who protest social injustice during the national anthem. He then followed up during the next few days with a series of tweets.

So in response, players, coaches and even owners joined together to take a knee or not even come on to the field during the national anthem.

Reaction to all of this has been mixed. The NFL announced ratings were up for last weekend’s games, and then Tuesday DirecTV said it would give refunds to those who wanted to cancel because of the protests.

Gumbel closed his show by giving credit to Trump for pushing the modern athlete to “follow in the giant footsteps of Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Billie Jean King, Roberto Clemente, Arthur Ashe and many others.”

Here is the full monologue:

“Finally tonight, a quick thanks to the current occupant of the White House for energizing the social conscience of the modern American athlete.

That occupant’s weekend series of racist, churlish and childish comments drew a variety of stunning rebukes and actions, which suggests jocks may finally be realizing that apathy won’t cut it anymore. That in conjunction with their fame, they have important civic roles to play — especially now.

Those of us who have long focused on the intersection of sports and society have often wondered what it would take for today’s athletes to forsake the path of least resistance and actually stand for something and now we know. Many suddenly seem not just willing, but also eager to follow in the giant footsteps of Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Billie Jean King, Roberto Clemente, Arthur Ashe and many others who courageously used their athletic platforms to challenge authority in the pursuit of justice.

Back in their day, Bob Dylan famously said: ‘The times they are a changin’, and that’s still true today … as is the sad reality that certain things haven’t really changed at all.”


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