Like nature, Donald Trump abhors a vacuum. And as the NFL has discovered to its regret, the president has filled the vacuum created by the league’s policy on players protesting during the national anthem.
The league, which is over 70 percent black, has been trying to soft pedal the protests— made prominent by former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Individually or in groups, players have promoted the Black Lives Matter agenda that claims, against most evidence (http://www.nationalreview.com/article/451466/police-violence-against-black-men-rare-heres-what-data-actually-say), that blacks are inordinately targeted by police in America.
They’ve persisted in saying little or nothing about the sit-downs in the hope that the inflammatory issue would burn itself out. But the continued unemployment of Kaepernick has kept it red-hot. Kaepernick, a borderline starting QB by today’s standards, opted out of his contract with San Francisco in hopes of finding a second chance and the riches of a new contract.
But while Kaepernick has had a few teams rattle the door knob, no one has decided to sign him. Despite a shortage of competent QBs in the market, most teams feel that the downside to signing the radical activist out-weighs the upside of giving him the keys to their offence.
Naturally, speculation from NFL players and the black community is that he was being ostracized for the colour of his skin (Kaepernick is black but was raised by white adoptive parents). In response, the league and its embedded media have tip-toed around the reasons for Kaepernick’s dilemma.
Enter the Prez on Friday night. Trump, who has a number of NFL owners as prominent donors, went rogue on his football supporters in a speech in Alabama. Extemporizing on the subject of anthem protesters, POTUS 45 said, “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!’
“You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
Naturally, the NFL Players Association and BLM activists lost it— and the grammar gene. "It's really sad man ... our president is a asshole," said LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills. "The behavior of the President is unacceptable and needs to be addressed. If you do not Condemn this divisive Rhetoric you are Condoning it!!" said Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks.
To them this revealed the innate racism of the NFL and the white corporate world. They feel they have a right to opine in the public square— even when that square is privately owned. To others, it showed the players becoming uncomfortably aware just who pays their enormous salaries in their lives— and how dispensable they are if the fandom rebels.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, caught between his players and owners, said Trump’s words were “divisive” and show “an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for our good clubs and players represent in our communities."
Some teams boycotted the anthem entirely Sunday, others locked arms and others saw individuals take knee. In doing so they played into Trump’s game. If you love the flag/ anthem you don’t protest like this.
Not content with blowing up the NFL’s dirty secret, Trump then turned his gaze to the NBA. Superstar Steph Curry had told the media he’d vote no when his Golden State teammates voted on whether to accept an invitation to the White House. Trump decided not to wait for the vote.
On Saturday, Trump tweeted: “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team, Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” Leading LeBron James, the NBA’s godlike player who’s suddenly been politicized, to tweet: “U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”
All this dovetailed with the mediaissue du jour, which was comedian Jimmy Kimmel using his TV host perch to argue politics with Trump. Leaving aside the merit of the arguments, there is the question of just what entitlements does a job in the NFL (or on network TV) give a person for free speech?
The NFLPA, NBA, LeBron and Kaepernick’s followers think that being a public figure entitles… no, obliges a person to speak their mind even at their workplace on the issues of the day. Others feel you should do your politics away from the workplace.
One thing Trump has all over all these hobby-farm politicians? He risked everything— money, fame, reputation— on becoming president. He earned the right to opine— right or wrong. Which of the athletes or celebs so fired with indignation this week is going to say goodbye to their $20-million-a-year jobs to do the same?
Until they take their strongly held convictions out of the safe house of sports or late-night TV, they haven’t earned the right to diss Trump. And they've put the target on their own backs.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)