In his book Uprooting Racism, author Paul Kivel explains what he terms "the myth of the happy family" tactic that some use to promote institutional racism: Whites like to think that society is a "happy family" that generally works for them; however, when people of color protest about the injustice they daily suffer, in particular when it comes to violence perpetrated by police officers, they're accused of upsetting America's "happy family": Whites call those people (to use Trump's phrase when referring to mainly black athletes) troublemakers or "sons of bitches." In short, the myth of the happy family strategy castigates people of color as somehow being unruly or insensitive: Those people are upsetting our happy family.
Dysfunctional behavior patterns in actual families follow the same pattern: If Father is the main dysfunctional person in power (for example, he has a substance abuse problem), Mother often is the primary enabler when called upon to shield Father from insightful criticism by the Children: "Mommy, what's wrong with Daddy?" Mother, often fearful of angering Father, will enable the Father by promoting the notion that the Children are at fault for any familial tension: "Nothing is wrong with your Father. Don't you cause problems and upset our happy family."
The NFL players are seen as the Children who are upsetting the dysfunctional myth that America is a happy family, and what better time to do so than during the singing of the national anthem in order to get attention when routinely many whites turn away just as they have from the Black Lives Matter movement, just as they did decades ago when Martin Luther King, Jr., and others marched in Selma and Birmingham: Those actively involved in the early days of the civil rights movement were also seen as troublemakers who protested at "inappropriate" times (see Dr. King's wonderful "Letter from the Birmingham Jail"), who somehow violated whites' sensibilities because protesters didn't use other means that would not upset those in power.
And just as many whites now say they were supporters of Dr. King and the marches, in twenty or thirty years many whites will say that they supported the NFL players when clearly that is not the case.
Racism in America is a difficult dysfunctional behavior pattern for many whites to deal with, partly because those afflicted, just as drug addicts are afflicted, don't want to see themselves in a negative light. Yet, they often fall prey to unhealthy, dysfunctional appeals that Trump and his minions promote precisely because such appeals find currency with anyone who has racist tendencies: Politicians have learned the power of "wedge issues" as a means of bringing out the worst in people. For example, in California, Proposition 209 was aimed at whites who were and are predisposed to think that people of color get jobs based on their ethnicity or race rather than based on their qualifications (a damning stereotype that should earn Prop. 209 supporters admission to the infernal regions), yet these same whites can't fathom the idea that many of them get jobs precisely because they're white, for they're often not the sharpest knives in the drawer. All one has to do is a quick reality check: Have you been turning down a number of job offers? Or are you only able to secure employment in a workplace where you "know" someone, a close friend or loved one, especially one who is already employed at your new place of employment? Far too many whites have secured employment for unmerited reasons--and they know who they are.
The complaints about the NFL players constitute another wedge issue created to reinforce racist stereotypes: Trump's ugly appeals attracts those who often have very few close friends of color. In stark contrast, one should notice that many white NFL players, coaches, and even team owners who have close ties with their black players have wonderfully rebuked Trump's accusations.
For the flag is merely a symbol. What ultimately matters are the rights we utilize, including the right to protest injustice, and protests that historically have had the most impact are those that challenge people to reconsider something they want to ignore. Protests at so-called "inappropriate" moments, such as during the singing of the national anthem, will have the greatest impact: We are not a happy family.