Former NASA Astronaut And NFL Player Pens Letter To President Trump

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Leland Melvin greets school children at the California Science Center in Los Angeles in 2012. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)
Leland Melvin greets school children at the California Science Center in Los Angeles in 2012. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

President Trump has criticized NFL players for taking a knee on the field during the singing of the national anthem. Meanwhile players, coaches and team owners continue to demonstrate, and some are calling out Trump for his criticism.

Here & Now's Robin Young talks with former NFL player and NASA astronaut Leland Melvin (@Astro_Flow) about a letter he wrote to Trump on Facebook.

Interview Highlights

On why he wrote the letter

"I watched him in Alabama talk about 'the SOBs' and 'fire them,' and before that, I was actually out of the country when all of a Charlottesville things happened. I was really saddened that there were Nazis marching on the grounds that I studied at. And you know, having people die in that exchange of insults and things, and the fact that the president could not condemn that violence until much later. And the rhetoric, and the tone that he used for an NFL player peacefully protesting, silently taking a knee, was a SOB, but there were nice people in the Nazi group. So, that incensed me.

"I thought about my short time in the NFL, putting my hand over my heart as the national anthem was sung, and I thought about, what would I do in that situation? And I coulda been that person kneeling, and called an SOB. And my mother is one of the sweetest people in the world, and so to have her be called a son of a, you know, b, it incensed me. And since then I've had a chance to talk to a lot of people, friends who voted for Trump, and people who didn't. And it started this conversation about, what is this all about? And I really think that, when the announcer in the stadium says, 'Rise to honor our veterans,' by no means is [Colin] Kaepernick or anyone taking a knee in any way wanting to dishonor the service of police officers, or people who are fighting in our wars, but it's an injustice that's happening in our streets, it's an inequality, it's things that have been stemmed from slavery, and the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, all of these foundational documents that define our democracy. That's what matters. I salute the flag, I honor the flag, but it's a symbol that relates back to those documents."

On Trump's rhetoric and tone

"I was on a U.N. panel talking about sexual violence. I have friends that have been raped and attacked, I have actually been raped before. And I feel like if we don't use the right language, we're gonna incite people to go do these things. There's a mob mentality that gets stoked at his rallies. He gets people stoked up. 'You should punch that person,' and a guy got punched as he was walking out of the stadium. And Mr. Trump at the time said, 'I will pay your legal fees.' And so this is giving people the right, because this leader is saying that 'I will help you with legal fees.' And that same language has continued past this process of getting elected to now being the president of United States of America. Words matter, and look at what happened in Charlottesville — people brandishing assault-style weapons. They are weaponized for a march. That's pretty serious."

On thinking about young people when Trump speaks

"Young people are always listening. Young people are little parrots: When you look at really small kids, they repeat what their parents say, or if they don't have parents, they're modeling after people that are present. And 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the picture that was taken by Bill Anders from Apollo 8, looking back at our planet. It's the picture that actually started the environmental movement, it started the EPA. And so we're at an inflection point just from thinking about our civilization, and climate change and all these other things, having the opportunity and being blessed to look at the planet from space and to see that it's one blue marble that we're all on, going around the sun. We're all in space together, and if we're gonna divide each other with language and hostility and actions, we're not gonna have a planet in the 100th anniversary of that Earthrise picture in 2068. So I'm trying to do as much as I can to inspire, motivate, help kids be aspirational and let them have love instead of hate. And this divisive rhetoric is causing more hate than love."

On his recommendation that Trump visit space

"I think everyone — the president, Congress — should have this opportunity to look at the planet from that vantage point. And it fundamentally, cognitively changes you when you get this overview effect. These petty differences that we have, they just evaporate away, because you look at the grandeur and the mystery of this planet, you look at the oceans. You also can see the Amazon burning, you see these things that we're doing to our planet, and it changes your mindset and makes you want to do better when you come home. And when I was in space I was working with people we used to fight against: Russians and Germans. And I had the first female commander of the space station, Dr. Peggy Whitson. And so, I look at what we do in space and it's an incredible feat, to build an outpost where we can live, we've been living since 2000. All of these years, we haven't had a fight in space. No matter what's happening on the ground, we all work together because we know that if we don't work together, we perish."

This article was originally published on September 29, 2017.

This segment aired on September 29, 2017.



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