CNN host Don Lemon and conservative commentator Ben Ferguson got into a heated debate on Wednesday night over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice in the United States.
Lemon opened up the segment by playing a clip from Fox News host Sean Hannity's interview with President Donald Trump earlier that night. Trump said the NFL should have suspended former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for one game after he kneeled during the national anthem last season, two games for the second time, and the full season if he kneeled a third time.
"You cannot disrespect our country, our flag, our anthem. You cannot do that," Trump said.
Liberal CNN commentator Van Jones pushed back against Trump's comments and said no athlete disrespects the military.
"We have been trying to get this point made over and over again; they are not protesting the flag. They are not protesting the anthem. No athlete has ever said one bad thing about a soldier. They are concerned about the neighborhoods they left behind where there is still so much injustice and poverty," Jones said.
Ferguson disagreed and said people are not going to have a consensus about the proper way to protest or handle racial injustice because of their "flat-out disrespect" to the American flag, prompting Lemon to say nobody saw it as a protest of the flag, or being disrespectful toward the flag until Trump "made it into an issue."
Ferguson disagreed and said the protest had also become much more about protesting Trump than anything else.
"A lot of the players also didn't protest until they started to protest Donald Trump. You had whole teams stay in the lock room. You had whole teams that had never come out before," Ferguson said.
Lemon followed up by asking Ferguson why he and others are "forcing patriotism" on Americans, prompting Ferguson to say no one is forcing patriotism on anyone, but as the president, Trump has an obligation to protect and defend the honor and integrity of the flag and anthem. He then emphasized that no one is arguing against people having the right to protest.
As the exchange progressed, it grew increasingly heated, with the two often talking over one another. One topic they disagreed on was what behavior is appropriate when when watching a football game and the national anthem is being played.
"I am in a bar almost every weekend during football season having wings and beer and everybody is chugging beers, and I look around and all these people who are screaming about people not standing," Lemon said.
Ferguson countered Lemon's argument by saying that is different when people are at the game and that the players need to stand to "honor America." Lemon responded by saying that each game consists of two American teams and that it's not as if "we’re playing some international country."
"Don, you are smarter than this," Ferguson said.
"No, don't tell me, ‘I'm smarter this,'" Lemon said. "Yes, I'm smarter than the bullshit answer that you’re giving!"
"It's not BS," Ferguson said.
"It is bullshit. It is total BS," Lemon said.
Ferguson said his comments are why so many Americans disagree with him, citing his "arrogance" and the "lack of respect" for the American flag.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent an email to all NFL executives on Tuesday, praising them for their willingness to engage in dialogue, but said their anthem protests were becoming barriers to conversation.
"Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem," Goodell wrote. "It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us."
The NFL sent out a message the next day clarifying that Goodell was not "demanding" all players stand, but that the topic would be addressed at the league's upcoming owners meeting.