Texas Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke made an impassioned defense of NFL players’ right to kneel in protest during the national anthem in a video that went viral this week.
Asked at a campaign town hall if he thought the protests were “disrespectful,” O’Rourke — who is challenging GOP Sen. Ted Cruz for his Senate seat this November — responded, “My short answer is: No, I don’t think it’s disrespectful.”
As the audience applauded, O’Rourke, 45, continued, “Peaceful, nonviolent protests, including taking a knee at a football game to point out that black men, unarmed, black teenagers, unarmed, and black children, unarmed, are being killed at a frightening level right now, including by members of law enforcement, without accountability, and without justice.
“And this problem — as grave as it is — is not going to fix itself, and they’re frustrated, frankly, with people like me and those in positions of public trust and power, who have been unable to resolve this or bring justice for what has been done and to stop it from continuing to happen in this country,” O’Rourke said.
He added: “And so nonviolently, 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. 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, anytime, anywhere, in any place.”
A video of the moment posted by the news site NowThis has since racked up 12 million views as of Thursday afternoon.
O’Rourke’s views stand in stark contrast to those of President Donald Trump, 72, who has repeatedly condemned the game-time demonstrations and called the protesting players “sons of bitches” for what he views as a show of disrespect for the flag.
As celebrities like Kevin Bacon, Ellen DeGeneres and LeBron James applauded O’Rourke’s performance at the town hall, Cruz tried to turn its viral appeal against his challenger.
“Most Texans stand for the flag, but Hollywood liberals are so excited that Beto is siding with NFL players protesting the national anthem that Kevin Bacon just retweeted it. That means all of us can now win Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon!” Cruz tweeted.