Opinion: President Trump vs. the NFL is peak 2017

Falcons owner Arthur Blank joins arms with his players during the playing of the national anthem prior to the game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday in Detroit. (Leon Halip / Getty Images)

There is no redeeming quality to the unfolding war of words between President Trump and professional football players. It is a duel of cheap applause lines, especially by each side’s defenders, calculated to appeal to the already converted for their short-term gain and our long-term damage. It’s a perfect illustration of America’s sorry state of discourse in 2017.

Until this past weekend, one could reasonably view the widespread coverage of a smattering of demonstrations before NFL games — in which a handful of athletes knelt during the national anthem in a silent but not entirely coherent protest of race relations — as the media making a mountain out of a molehill. The kneeling began last season with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, then of the San Francisco 49ers; with Kaepernick now out of the league (there’s a side debate here as to whether his lack of an NFL job is because of his play or his protests) the demonstrations had grown to a not-exactly-whopping six players as of the second week of the season. There was a debate as to the propriety of the form of protest, but it was a relatively minor issue, all things considered. And despite the (in my view) out-sized coverage, most Americans regardless of their opinion of the protests, both their cause and their form, seemed content to ignore them.

Then Trump decided to enter the fray. And now we are back to our familiar, partisan battle lines.

Trump did what Trump does: He identified a division in society and drove a TNT-laced wedge into it. There was no need for him to speak on the matter of six professional football players kneeling during the national anthem. Yet he did, unprompted, during a campaign rally Friday for U.S. Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama. If you want to know why he brought it up at a campaign rally, in a state that doesn’t even have an NFL franchise in the first place, he basically gave away the game at the end of this excerpt from his speech from a story by Time:

“‘We’re proud of our country, we respect our flag,’ Trump said at a rally Friday. ‘Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!”‘

“‘Some owners are going to do that. [They will say] “that guy who disrespects our flag, he’s fired!” That owner, they don’t know it. They’re friends of mine, many of them. They don’t know, they’ll be the most popular person for a week,’ he continued at the stump speech in Alabama.”

His attraction to this issue is right there in that last sentence: “they’ll be the most popular person for a week.” That is the long and the short of it as far as Trump goes. If you think it’s about anything else for him — that it’s really about patriotism or anything other than seizing on a popular and emotional wedge issue — I dare say you’re kidding yourself and not listening closely enough to the man himself. It’s about popularity, and specifically, short-term popularity. He’s counting on millions of Americans who agree with him about the protests not to spend much time thinking about whether it’s worthy of the president’s time, or appropriate for him to render his opinion on it, and instead to consolidate behind him on this issue.

But hold on there, anti-Trumpers. You don’t get off scot-free here, either.

On the back of Trump’s remarks, scores of NFL players joined the protest on Sunday in one form or another. NFL owners and the league itself issued statements supporting the players in the face of the president’s protest. For if there’s anything as popular in America right now as being seen standing up for the flag, it’s being seen standing up against Trump. Especially if you’re a celebrity of any type. Suddenly, people unmoved by the protesters’ original cause are siding with them just because Trump attacked them.

Call me a cynic, but I don’t think this is still about race, or the flag, or anything else anymore. It’s a Trumpian litmus test. You’re either with him or against him. And it’s not going to stop with the NFL. Already, NASCAR has issued a warning against its employees demonstrating during the anthem, and an Oakland A’s player over the weekend reportedly became the first in Major League Baseball to join the protest.

Which brings us to the self-defeating part of this entire episode. A protest essentially going nowhere — even the talking heads, who enjoyed having this as a controversial topic during the off-season, were moving on now that there were actual games to analyze and discuss — has now been inflated to a larger size than ever before. And that inflation was brought on by people, on both sides, who previously showed no inclination to support the original cause. (Some of the players might have sympathized with the issues Kaepernick raised, but not to the point of adopting his chosen form of protest.)

Where has all this gotten us? We’re moving backward. What started out as a minor protest is now a major one. What started out as a faux fight over freedom of speech — there was no indication the government was going to try to force the kneeling players to stand — now arguably is legitimately a free-speech fight, what with the president of the United States calling for the protesters’ bosses to fire them. What started out as a small-scale politicization of a game is now a large-scale politicization of it. What started out as a rather generic debate about race relations is now a very specific fight about Donald Trump.

Unfortunately, that’s just how both Trump and his antagonists like it.

Reader Comments 0

343 comments
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ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

The conversation Kaepernick set out to have regarding police brutality was never going to happen in the way he thought...apparently not standing for the anthem is akin to burning the flag or spitting on a soldiers grave and is a litmus test for ones patriotism...no one wins here...we just go on talking past each other with the belief that we are right...fighting to fight while nothing changes no jobs come back no empathy for ones situation just fighting...a sad time for our citizens

MaryAsicit
MaryAsicit

i agree with much of what you say, but your attempt to put it equally on "both sides" is stretching it.

MaryAsicit
MaryAsicit

And how is that the fault of NFL players protesting violence against unarmed blacks And whites?

bu22
bu22

@MaryAsicit  They are spreading the false narrative that police and whites are hunting down and murdering Blacks.  The media contributes even more.  I applaud Kyle for not mentioning the names of these attempted mass murderers.

breckenridge
breckenridge

ISTANBUL — Nearly every Middle East government was opposed to Monday's vote for independence in the Kurdish region of Iraq. But not so just across the border in the cities and towns of western Iran.

There, thousands of Iranian Kurds, jubilant for their Iraqi kin, staged demonstrations in support of the vote. (Iran is home to roughly 8 million Kurds. The rest of the region's Kurdish population is spread across Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.)

But Tehran is also concerned about unrest within its own borders, where Kurds have long complained of discrimination and widespread rights abuses. The armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, or KDPI, which is based in Iraq, ended a years-long cease-fire with Iran's Revolutionary Guard last year. The two sides have engaged in low-level clashes, and on Monday the party circulated images from the protests.

Good. The Iraqi Kurds should create their own country and then support the Iranian Kurds with weapons and cash generated from their vast oil reserves.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

As an owner Jerry Jones showed leadership last night. The team knelt to one knee prior to the national anthem and then stood up for it when the anthem played. I don't necessarily agree with millionaire black football players protesting racial equality because they certainly have it but at least this was an orderly and respectful handling of the situation.

MaryAsicit
MaryAsicit

So the "millionaire black football players" have racial equality so they're not all owed to protest for those who don't?

Not getting your "logic".

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McGarnagle
McGarnagle

In all the hoop-la over NFL players and national anthem protest. Seems the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill is dead. Enough Repub senators still not convince bill will have its benefits.


What a train wreck. Utter incompetence on the president who promised he had a plan that would cover everyone (its called BS where I am from) and GOP leadership who promised they had a plan everyone agreed upon.


And we think electing more establishment Repub will fix things. Lets get Roy Moore in Congress, I want to see McConnell's face when dealing with that nutjob.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

The left openly displays their Trump, derangement and that only helps him politically. Keep up the good work fools.

Starik
Starik

@SGTGrit  Not just the left, Sarge. Anybody with any sense is disgusted with Trump. 

breckenridge
breckenridge

@Starik @SGTGrit 

The left does have contempt for Trump.  So do a smattering of republicans.  But the most important number? 70% of independents, the largest voting bloc, disapprove of Trump's job performance. 


Looking ahead here, the big question is who  the republican presidential candidate will be in 2020. Because it damn sure will not be Trump.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@SGTGrit


This goes beyond politics. I wouldn't like Trump even if he agreed with me on all issues. Just stop being a jerk.

breckenridge
breckenridge

“We have made as clear as you can possibly make it, we want less immigration. Stop dumping the third-world on the country.”

"Trump was elected into the White House because of his stance on immigration. If he continues down this path, well I guess there are three options. There’s the organizing the death squads for the people who ruined America, because there will be no more hope.” 

 “I guess the other possibility is to – well I don’t think anyone would mind him being impeached. What’s the faction opposing that? And then at least we’ll get Mike Pence. But in terms of saving America, maybe a third party.” Ann Coulter, 9-18-2017


It doesn't sound as though the brittle hag Coulter is a fan of DACA.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@breckenridge


Ann Coulter must have had her heart broken by a Mexican dude. Only way I could explain how hellbent she is on this issue. 

breckenridge
breckenridge

WASHINGTON — Senator Susan Collins of Maine said on Monday that she would oppose the latest plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, leaving Republican leaders clearly short of the votes they need for passage.

Ms. Collins, a Republican, announced her opposition in a written statement, delivering a significant and possibly fatal blow to the party’s seven-year quest to dismantle the health law.

But this plan was something that 20% of Americans were in favor of, as opposed to just 18% of the last plan. 

Yep, they're winning hearts and minds slowly but surely.

breckenridge
breckenridge

And many more. I was delighted to see that the kids of influential families wiggled out of it in North Vietnam too.

And South Vietnam also. Garry Trudeau took the South Vietnamese rich kids to task in his Doonesbury strip, much to the chagrin of the South Vietnamese government.

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

"There was no need for him to speak on the matter..."

Kyle I respectfully disagree with you on that. In normal times I'd agree about the "need" aspect, however as we well know (most of) the news media is deep into PC and seemingly not that interested in supporting  traditional American values. That being the case it's not inappropriate for the President of the United States to stand up for the silent majority.

Now that he's done so, I hope he'll let it go and move on.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

we have a First Amendment, which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged ― and it is addressed in particular to speech critical of the government. That was the main kind of speech that tyrants would seek to suppress.”


- Anthony Scalia

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Hedley_Lammar Your right to free speech is subordinate to your employers right to make a living.  If your speech harms his income, he is within his right to find someone else to work in your place.

monty1
monty1

@Hedley_Lammar I disagree. I think many whites are just fed up with race baiting where we come out painted as bigots when we're truly desiring of better race relations but totally disagree with the asinine method used: burning and looting innocent businesses that people have poured their hearts into in these communities. Violence is not the way to better race relations it only makes it harder. Not many whites I know are going to be sympathetic to black militants who call for police killings.Nor are many whites going to be sympathetic to millionaire sports figures disrespecting (black or white) the nation that provided them the opportunity to get rich playing a kids game. Police aren't out to kill blacks and as long as that is portrayed as a serious issue then we have a problem.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Bookman has a good piece on this.


Remember the Muslims cheering as the towers came down ? Never happened of course. And when caught in a lie Trump responded by mocking a disabled man.


He has a long history of this.



Starik
Starik

@Hedley_Lammar  Good character, our President. The worst person ever in that job? Seriously? 

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@Starik @Hedley_Lammar

No question the lying scumbag is the worst person ever in that job. But whether his presidency ends up the monumental failure that was GWB's is still TBD.

dhowardporter
dhowardporter

Standing for the National Anthem or when the American Flag passes us in a parade.....we stand because we choose to do so...not because someone tells us we have to do so! The gesture of respect becomes meaningless when it becomes "...you better do it if you know what's good for you..." This has nothing to do with veterans and everything to do with the love of our country. I respect your right to kneel, sit down, lay down or whatever during the playing of the Anthem. By the same token, you need to respect my right to disapprove of your actions and hold you in utter personal contempt.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Great idea, re-institute the draft, the REAL draft, the one where you get a head shave as a signing bonus. Teach them to stand at ATTENTION and SALUTE for the Anthem.

Starik
Starik

@Hedley_Lammar @bu22 @Starik @dhowardporter  We haven't had a draft for some time, unfortunately. I respect those who resisted, Even the ones who went to Canada showed more strength of character than Clinton, Bush, Trump. Saxby Chambless and many more. 

Starik
Starik

@Hedley_Lammar @Starik @bu22 @dhowardporter  Didn't matter to me. In 1968 grad students' deferments went away. I didn't cheat. I watched the 1969 draft lottery at Fort Bliss, in Vietnamese language school. I showed up. Nobody went in my place. 

Starik
Starik

@Hedley_Lammar @Starik @bu22 @dhowardporter  And many more. I was delighted to see that the kids of influential families wiggled out of it in North Vietnam too. Everybody should watch the PBS show, or if you miss it, buy it. Out on blu ray and dvd. 

Starik
Starik

@Hedley_Lammar @Starik @bu22 @dhowardporter  True. No money in it for the Clintons. Bush dodged through the National Guard, then dumped the Guard into multiple combat tours in Irag. Nothing could be more...disgraceful? 

Starik
Starik

@Hedley_Lammar @Starik @DawgDadII  Everybody signs up, and is evaluated on their personal strengths and weaknesses. Draft what the military needs, be it strong backs, education, or high IQ scores. Objectors can serve as medics or in civilian jobs at the same salary draftees get. Be patriotic.