Beto O'Rourke, the Texas Democrat challenging Ted Cruz, has earned national praise for his viral defence of NFL players' protests

Chris Covatta/Getty ImagesRep. Beto O’Rourke, a Texas Democrat running for Senate.
  • Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Texas Democrat running against Sen. Ted Cruz, is receiving widespread plaudits for his viral defence of NFL players who protest police misconduct and gun violence.
  • Democrats, critics of the president, and some influential voices in sports praised O’Rourke’s passionate comments on the importance of peaceful protest in the fight for civil rights.
  • This comes as President Donald Trump doubled down on his criticism of the professional athletes, many of whom are black.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Texas Democrat running against Sen. Ted Cruz, is receiving widespread plaudits for his viral defence of NFL players who protest police misconduct and gun violence – even as the president doubles down on his criticism of the athletes.

During a campaign stop last week, O’Rourke was asked whether NFL players are disrespecting the country and veterans by kneeling in protest during the national anthem.

The congressman began by praising the question and arguing that “reasonable people can disagree … and it makes them no less American” before launching into a passionate defence of the players’ right to free speech and the historic importance of peaceful protest in the movement for civil rights.

“Non-violently, peacefully, while the eyes of this country are watching these games, they take a knee to bring our attention and our focus to this problem to ensure that we fix it,” O’Rourke said of the football players. “That is why they are doing it. And I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights, any time, anywhere, in any place.”

O’Rourke compared the actions of black activists who sat in, marched, and protested during the US civil rights movement to the actions of US military veterans who have defended their country on the battlefield.

O’Rourke’s comments, which went viral in the form of a NowThis video, drew widespread praise from Democrats and Republicans who are critical of the president, as well as from influential voices in the world of sports.

Progressive New York Times opinion columnist Charles Blow tweeted out the link to O’Rourke’s monologue, writing, “Friends have been trying to sell me on @BetoORourke for months. I just didn’t know much about him. OK, now I’m SOLD!”

NBA coach Steve Kerr, who’s been outspoken in his support of athletes’ right to protest, also tweeted out the video, writing, “Please watch this and be reminded of what thoughtful leadership looks and sounds like. Thank you @BetoORourke for giving us a glimpse of our future. Things will get better!”

Actor Russell Crowe also jumped in to support O’Rourke.

Cruz criticised O’Rourke’s comments last week and has repeatedly condemned NFL players for “disrespecting the flag.”

“When Beto O’Rourke says he can’t think of anything more American (than players taking a knee), well I got to tell you, I can,” Cruz told the Corpus Christi Caller Times last week.

But the Republican senator, a self-described “Constitutionalist,” has also said the protesters shouldn’t be censored. Cruz recently argued that while the football league “would be well-advised not to tell half of their fans to go jump in a lake,” he added that he fully supports NFL players’ “right to say whatever they like” and that Americans should condemn, rather than censor, their protest.

President Donald Trump has taken an even more hard-line approach to the issue, which he’s elevated into a national political debate. During a rally in West Virginia on Tuesday night, Trump criticised both the players and ESPN for not airing the national anthem before “Monday Night Football” games – a practice in line with the league’s past policy.

“You’re proud of our country, you’re proud of our history, and unlike the NFL, you always honour and cherish our great American flag,” Trump told the crowd. “It was just announced by ESPN that rather than defending our anthem, our beautiful, beautiful national anthem and defending our flag, they have decided that they just won’t broadcast when they play the national anthem. We don’t like that.”

O’Rourke, 44, has outraised Cruz in his Senate bid – even while banning corporate PAC money from his campaign – and in July alone, he raised a staggering $US2.9 million online. For months, he has attracted the attention of national Democrats with a strong social media presence. And while recent polls show Cruz six points ahead in the red state, the non-partisan Cook Political Report earlier this month moved the race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.”

The congressman’s campaign rolled out its first campaign ad in late July – a $US1.2 million effort.

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