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Some NFL fans see disparities in its responses to Harrison Butker and Colin Kaepernick

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Some NFL fans see disparities in its responses to Harrison Butker and Colin Kaepernick

Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker, pictured at a December 2023 game, sparked conversation and controversy earlier this month with his commencement speech at Benedictine College in Kansas.

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Harrison Butker’s controversial commencement speech — and the reaction — continue to dominate conversation off the field, with key figures in the NFL weighing in publicly for the first time this week.

The Kansas City Chiefs kicker stirred up a culture war skirmish with his remarks at Benedictine College earlier this month, in which he denounced abortion rights, Pride Month, COVID-19 lockdowns, “dangerous gender ideologies” and “the tyranny of diversity, equity and inclusion,” while also encouraging female graduates to embrace the “vocation” of homemaker, all in 20 minutes.

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The speech, which has since racked up nearly 2 million views on YouTube, resonated with some football fans and conservative public figures, including Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley. Online sales of Butker’s jersey spiked, becoming the Chiefs’ best-seller.

But the speech has drawn widespread criticism from many corners of the internet, including some current and former students of the Catholic liberal arts college, an order of affiliated nuns, Kansas City officials and fans of Taylor Swift, whom Butker quoted in the speech as “my teammate’s girlfriend.”

The NFL distanced itself from Butker’s comments in a brief statement last week, saying he made them “in his personal capacity” and “his views are not those of the NFL as an organization.”

“The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger,” it added.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell echoed that idea while speaking to reporters on Wednesday.

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“We have over 3,000 players,” Goodell said, according to Yahoo Sports and the Associated Press. “We have executives around the league that have a diversity of opinions and thoughts just like America does. I think that’s something that we treasure, and that’s part of, I think, ultimately what makes us as a society better.”

But some social media users were quick to contrastGoodell’s comments with hisreaction to another high-profile controversy involving a football player exercising his right to self-expression: that of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

When it comes to players’ self-expression, some see a double standard

 Kaepernick, who is biracial, began sitting on the bench during the playing of the national anthem in the 2016 preseason to protest what he called “the injustices that are happening in America.”

He continued to kneel during the anthem for the rest of the season, inspiring some other players but prompting criticism from many — including then-President Donald Trump — who accused him of being anti-American.

Goodell bemoaned Trump’s comments as showing “an unfortunate lack of respect” for players but had already made a similar critique of Kaepernick’s protest himself.

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“I think it’s important if they see things they want to change in society, and clearly we have things that can get better in society, and we should get better,” Goodell said in his first public comments on the protest in 2016. “But we have to choose respectful ways of doing that so that we can achieve the outcomes we ultimately want and do it with the values and ideals that make our country great.”

The following year, as the number of players kneeling — and the backlash to them — grew, Goodell told NFL teams in a memo that “everyone should stand” during the national anthem.

“The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues,” he wrote. “We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”

Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers in the spring of 2017 but wasn’t signed by any NFL team afterward, which led his supporters to accuse league owners of freezing him out because of his political beliefs. Kaepernick alleged the same in a grievance filed against the NFL later that year, which he withdrew after settling in 2019.

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He hasn’t played professionally since but has continued his career as a civil rights activist and author.

In June 2020, as protests against racial injustice and police brutality rocked the U.S., and after players called on the NFL to speak out, Goodell released a video statement condemning racism and acknowledging the league’s shortcomings in that area.

“We, the National Football League admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” he said, without naming Kaepernick.

Goodell doubled down in a series of remarks that summer, including encouraging an NFL team to sign Kaepernick as a free agent and publicly apologizing.

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“I wished we had listened earlier, Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to,” he said.

On Wednesday, X (formerly Twitter) users and op-ed writers called Goodell’s comments hypocritical and wondered aloud what Kaepernick thinks of them. Some acknowledged that their situations differ, since Kaepernick protested in uniform during games while Butker made his speech off the field.

Kaepernick hasn’t commented publicly on Butker’s speech or Goodell’s response.

Last week, as controversy over Butker’s comments brewed, The View co-host Whoopi Goldberg said Butker and Kaepernick deserve equal respect for expressing their views.

“These are his beliefs and he’s welcome to them,” she said of Butker. “I don’t have to believe them, I don’t have to accept them, the ladies that were sitting in that audience don’t have to accept them.

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“The same way we want respect when Colin Kaepernick takes a knee, we want to give respect to people whose ideas are different from ours because the man who says he wants to be president … he says the way to act is to take away people’s right to say how they feel. We don’t want to be that, we don’t want to be those people.”

Some Chiefs leaders have also spoken up for Butker

More members of the Chiefs acknowledged the controversy on Wednesday, coming to Butker’s defense.

Star quarterback Patrick Mahomes told reporters, “There are certain things that he said that I don’t necessarily agree with but I understand … he’s trying to do whatever he can to lead people in the right direction.”

He added that he’s known Butker for seven years and considers him a good person.

“I judge him by the character that he shows every single day,” he said. “That’s someone who cares about the people around him, cares about his family and wants to make a good impact in society.”

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Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid also addressed the response to the speech, though stayed away from its contents. He said he hadn’t talked to Butker about it because “I didn’t think we needed to.”

“We’re a microcosm of life,” he said of the team. “Everybody is from different areas, different religions, different races, and so, we all get along, we all respect each other’s opinions and not necessarily do we go by those, but we respect everybody to have a voice … My wish is that everybody could kind of follow that.”

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Vietnam’s ‘bamboo diplomacy’ triumphs with visits from Biden, Xi and now Putin

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Vietnam’s ‘bamboo diplomacy’ triumphs with visits from Biden, Xi and now Putin

Over the past nine months, Vietnam has hosted Joe Biden, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, balancing geopolitical rivalries with an élan that has eluded other countries.

The string of visits shows how a country adept at attracting manufacturing investment from companies eager to diversify their supply chains is adroitly managing its foreign policy.

By hosting Putin this week for his first visit since 2017, Vietnam, which has a long-standing independent and diversified foreign policy, joins the ranks of North Korea, Iran and China in opening its doors to a leader shunned globally after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Putin’s visit, which follows his trip to North Korea and comes less than a year after Washington and Hanoi upgraded their ties, has irked the US but is unlikely to disrupt relations. “Vietnam has played this game quite well,” said Nguyen Khac Giang, a visiting fellow at Singapore’s Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Vietnam has been “actively neutral” unlike other countries that have been more passive, he said. “Hanoi knows it must actively balance different powers . . . because that’s the way for Vietnam to gain benefits from all three powers. Otherwise it would be drawn into political games without any ability to change the direction of the game.”

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Communist party-ruled Vietnam’s independent foreign policy dates back to the end of the cold war, when Hanoi decided to be a friend to all countries. Long-standing party chief Nguyen Phu Truong, the most senior political figure in Vietnam, calls this “bamboo diplomacy”, citing the plant’s “strong roots, stout trunk and flexible branches”.

Workers in Hanoi manufacturing Russian flags ahead of this week’s visit by Vladimir Putin © Thinh Nguyen/Reuters

Under his leadership, Vietnam has upgraded relations with the US and allies such as Australia, Japan and South Korea to “comprehensive strategic partnerships”, the highest level of diplomatic ties afforded by Hanoi.

When Biden visited Hanoi last September, the US president hailed the move to upgrade the partnership as part of the 50-year “arc of progress” between the two former foes.

In recent years Vietnam has become a favoured destination for companies such as Apple as they look to diversify their supply chains away from China. Foreign direct investment in Vietnam hit $36.6bn last year.

Yet Vietnam has managed to achieve this without disrupting its ties with China, its largest trading partner, and Russia, its biggest arms supplier. The two have been strategic partners with Vietnam since 2008 and 2012, respectively.

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Three months after the Biden visit, Xi followed in his footsteps and the two communist neighbours agreed to build a “shared future” to strengthen their ties — despite disagreements and regular stand-offs between their ships in the South China Sea, where Vietnam and Beijing have overlapping claims.

Vietnam has been astute in navigating the relationship with China by striking the right balance “between defiance and deference”, said Susannah Patton, the Lowy Institute’s director of south-east Asia programme.

Vietnam has used its relationships with the US and Russia as a balance against China, she said. “Vietnam has benefited from its omnidirectional foreign policy stance and has made itself relevant to many partners.”

Vladimir Putin being greeted at Noi Bai International Airport
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is greeted at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Thursday © Nhac Nguyen/AFP

Vietnam’s foreign policy direction has withstood recent domestic political upheaval — a result of a long-running corruption crackdown — and is unlikely to change even as geopolitical tensions rise.

Analysts said the Communist party was pragmatic about its foreign policy and understood the importance of having western allies, especially as it looked to cement its place as a crucial manufacturing hub.

At the same time, hosting Putin is a “matter of principle” for Vietnam to show the balance and diversity in its foreign policy, said Le Hong Hiep, senior fellow and co-ordinator of the Vietnam studies programme at Iseas.

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The US has expressed disappointment at the visit but said its relationship with Vietnam would continue to strengthen.

“We reiterate that no country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalise his atrocities. We cannot return to business as usual or turn a blind eye to the clear violations of international law Russia has committed in Ukraine,” a US state department spokesperson told the Financial Times.

Russia, the biggest supplier of military equipment including submarines to Hanoi, has been a close partner of Vietnam since the cold war. The two countries have run joint exploration projects for oil and gas in the South China Sea.

Vietnamese media has reported that Hanoi is seeking closer co-operation with Russia in natural resources, artificial intelligence, life sciences and energy. Putin is expected to meet Nguyen and other senior officials, with talks focusing on trade, economic and technological prospects, along with international and regional issues. It is unclear if any deals will be announced.

This week’s visit may ultimately prove more beneficial for Putin than for Vietnam, said Iseas’ Le, as it shows that doors still open for him. Vietnam might be cautious in announcing any major deals with Russia as it seeks to remain on good terms with the US and its allies.

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“Vietnam will be wise enough to make sure that the visit will not harm its relation with US and western partners,” said Le. “It has been able to maintain good ties with all the major powers, and that plays an important role in helping Vietnam attract investment from different partners.”

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Louisiana will require the 10 Commandments displayed in every public school classroom

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Louisiana will require the 10 Commandments displayed in every public school classroom

Louisiana has become the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom under a bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Jeff Landry on Wednesday. Above, workers repaint a Ten Commandments billboard off of Interstate 71 near Chenoweth, Ohio, on Nov. 7, 2023.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana has become the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom, the latest move from a GOP-dominated Legislature pushing a conservative agenda under a new governor.

The legislation that Republican Gov. Jeff Landry signed into law on Wednesday requires a poster-sized display of the Ten Commandments in “large, easily readable font” in all public classrooms, from kindergarten to state-funded universities.

Opponents questioned the law’s constitutionality and vowed to challenge it in court. Proponents said the the measure is not solely religious, but that it has historical significance. In the language of the law, the Ten Commandments are “foundational documents of our state and national government.”

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The posters, which will be paired with a four-paragraph “context statement” describing how the Ten Commandments “were a prominent part of American public education for almost three centuries,” must be in place in classrooms by the start of 2025.

Under the law, state funds will not be used to implement the mandate. The posters would be paid for through donations.

The law also “authorizes” but does not require the display of other items in K-12 public schools, including: The Mayflower Compact, which was signed by religious pilgrims aboard the Mayflower in 1620 and is often referred to as America’s “First Constitution”; the Declaration of Independence; and the Northwest Ordinance, which established a government in the Northwest Territory — in the present day Midwest — and created a pathway for admitting new states to the Union.

Not long after the governor signed the bill into law at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School in Lafayette on Wednesday, civil rights groups and organizations that want to keep religion out of government promised to file a lawsuit challenging it.

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The law prevents students from getting an equal education and will keep children who have different beliefs from feeling safe at school, the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation said in a joint statement Wednesday afternoon.

“Even among those who may believe in some version of the Ten Commandments, the particular text that they adhere to can differ by religious denomination or tradition. The government should not be taking sides in this theological debate,” the groups said.

The controversial law, in a state ensconced in the Bible Belt, comes during a new era of conservative leadership in Louisiana under Landry, who replaced two-term Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in January. The GOP holds a supermajority in the Legislature, and Republicans hold every statewide elected position, paving the way for lawmakers to push through a conservative agenda.

Similar bills requiring the Ten Commandments be displayed in classrooms have been proposed in other states including Texas, Oklahoma and Utah. However, with threats of legal battles over the constitutionality of such measures, no state besides Louisiana has succeeded in making the bills law.

Legal battles over the display of the Ten Commandments in classrooms are not new.

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In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a similar Kentucky law was unconstitutional and violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says Congress can “make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The high court found that the law had no secular purpose but rather served a plainly religious purpose.

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Officer on Sunak protection detail arrested over alleged bet on timing of UK poll

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Officer on Sunak protection detail arrested over alleged bet on timing of UK poll

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Police investigating bets on the timing of the UK’s general election have arrested an officer from the team guarding Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over the claims.

London’s Metropolitan Police said an officer from its Royalty and Specialist Protection command had been held over “alleged bets”, without identifying whom the officer had been guarding.

A person familiar with the situation confirmed he had been part of Sunak’s protection detail.

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It is the first reported arrest since the Gambling Commission opened a probe into betting on the timing of the surprise election.

The investigation was launched after Craig Williams, a Conservative MP and aide to Sunak, admitted he had placed a wager on a July election shortly before the poll was announced.

The Met said on Wednesday that the Gambling Commission contacted it on Friday saying it was investigating “alleged bets” by a constable from the specialist unit “related to the timing of the general election”.

The force added: “The matter was immediately referred to officers in the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards, who opened an investigation, and the officer was also removed from operational duties. The officer was subsequently arrested on Monday 17 June on suspicion of misconduct in public office.”

The Met said the arrested officer had been taken into custody and bailed “pending further inquiries”. The matter had also been referred to the force watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, it added.

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The Met did not name the officer, in line with normal practice before anyone is charged.

Sunak aide Williams insisted when admitting laying his bet that the Gambling Commission’s investigation of the matter amounted to “some routine inquiries” with which he would “fully co-operate”. He remains the Conservative general election candidate for Montgomeryshire and Glyndŵr in Wales.

The Guardian reported he had bet £100 on May 19 at odds of 5-1 that the election would be in July, at a time when it was not expected before the autumn. Sunak made his surprise announcement of a July 4 election on May 22.

The police officer is the only person known to have been arrested.

The Gambling Commission said it was investigating the “possibility” of offences concerning the date of the election.

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“This is an ongoing investigation, and the Commission cannot provide any further details at this time,” it said.

Additional reporting by Eri Sugiura

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