Unless you’re under a rock or you’re following Australia’s possible sweep in the World Indoor Cricket World Cup, you already know about President Trump’s Friday comments about NFL players who sit or kneel to protest the National Anthem.
You probably already know about his followup tweets, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s response.
NFL says Trump's comments were "divisive," demonstrating an "unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players" pic.twitter.com/Ur6FaMikET
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) September 23, 2017
Many pundits, bloggers and reporters have seen fit to lecture the president about this, with the Washington Post even making the laughable claim that it’s Trump who has turned sports into “a political battleground.”
I don’t think anyone buys that, given ESPN’s devotion to leftist narratives since Michael Sams was the non-story of the day before Kaepernick made his political statement on the field. The real question is: does he deserve all the tongue-lashing?
I don’t think, in the lens and frame of the presidency and Trump’s in particular, that he does. Here are four reasons why Trump is–probably uniquely–qualified to bash the NFL.
1. Trump ended the NFL’s monopoly while simultaneously ensuring it would endure forever
Remember the New Jersey Generals? Trump bought that team as the flagship of the upstart USFL in 1984. The USFL’s thing was to play spring football, and the NFL was (mostly) just fine with that. Eventually, it might have worked out that the NFL would absorb the new league, or it would become what the minor leagues are to MLB.
But Trump didn’t want that. He wanted to take on the NFL in its core competency: fall football. He did so, and sued the NFL for monopolistic practices. It was a show trial, and the NFL knew they probably didn’t have the law or the facts on their side. So they did what lawyers do and went for sympathy. Turns out Trump’s team played right into their hands.
If you are a sports fan of a certain age, you surely remember how that trial ended. The jury found that the N.F.L.’s monopolistic practices had indeed injured the U.S.F.L. Then came the coup de grâce: It awarded damages of one dollar. Trebled, that came to $3. With interest, it was $3.76.
The USFL was finished. The NFL’s hegemony was etched in stone, but Trump has established a legal precedent that anyone who feels the need can now take on the NFL. One day, given the current climate, that could become important again.
It also gives Trump unique insight into the NFL as an entity. He’s always been close to football owners–the ones he cares for.
2. Presidents get to set the “lanes” for their presidency
The biggest complaint I hear that is Trump is out of his lane. He should stick to the knitting. He’s focusing on the wrong things.
We’re talking about one offhand comment in a rally. Trump has never considered rallies to be “presidential” events. To him, it’s where he can cut loose and let the cannon pivot on auto-fire. It’s his way of venting and building himself up with the crowd’s response. It’s why people like Jay Leno still did stand-up comedy for years while he hosted the Tonight Show, or why Seinfeld never left the stage. It’s what sustains Trump.
Nobody should be surprised that Trump tweeted a double-down on his Friday comment after the press reacted. Of course he did.
Sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their National Anthem or their Country. NFL should change policy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Did the left complain about Barack Obama getting involved in the Cambridge, Mass. Police Department’s handling of a locked-out black professor? That and a myriad of other issues where Obama inserted his opinion about race relations were seen as a proper use of the bully pulpit, but Trump’s opinions are always out of bounds.
And in many cases, historically, and politically-speaking, his comments are in fact out-of-bounds. They are in fact divisive. So what? Politics is down stream of culture, and it was culture that elected Donald Trump (and Barack Obama for that matter).
Who are we to lecture the president about what’s in his lane? As Obama wrote to Trump, the presidency is “a unique office,” and there is “no blueprint for success.”
3. Trump is being the voice he promised to be
Trump’s greatest speech ever wasn’t the “presidential” ones he delivered, although he’s done a fair job when he follows the teleprompter. His greatest speech was his nomination speech in July 2016. In that speech, he made his greatest campaign promise in four capitalized, shouted words: “I AM YOUR VOICE.”
That speech, I believe, won him the presidency.
The issue of standing for the National Anthem is divisive, period. It was divisive before Trump made his comments.
Most of Trump’s supporters, and conservatives in general, agree with Trump’s sentiments. I’ve talked to several who believe that Trump went down a rabbit trail and made divisive, even unnecessary comments. But most agree with him.
— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) September 24, 2017
Two facts lend proof to this, and show that the question of Trump’s position had already been answered.
First, Colin Kaepernick is unemployed. The Miami Dolphins went with Jay Cutler, and even looked at bringing Tim Tebow back, rather than sign Kaepernick. Every NFL coach and owner thinks Kaepernick is radioactive.
Now the trend is for players (like the Jaguars and Ravens today) to kneel during the anthem. Trump pushed the issue and made this happen. He forced people to take a side. But nobody can ignore the voices of those who agree with him. Nobody can pretend they believe one thing but really have another motive.
Second, we know what the motives of the owners are. Robert Kraft, a friend of Trump, was diplomatic.
“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday,” Kraft said in his statement, issued by the team. “I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger. There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”
It’s about money though. What Kraft didn’t say is that most NFL players are millionaires. Most owners are billionaires. The TV deals with liberal ESPN, NBC and CBS bring in enormous revenues. The pressure to yield to liberal causes and social movements is huge.
Many NFL player contracts (the contact is largely standardized) include provisions requiring a certain amount of “public relations / promotion-related requests” for their club. When players show up for “off the field” efforts, many times those are required events. Of course, many players do spread the wealth privately, and share their time in worthy causes.
But the NFL, make no mistake, is about money.
Money is why Colin Kaepernick is unemployed. Money is why Robert Kraft is disappointed his his friend Donald Trump, who is being the voice of his base–the voice he promised to be.
4. The NFL gets billions in taxpayer money
The “but it’s a private organization” argument is certainly valid from a First Amendment perspective. Nobody can successfully argue that players don’t have a legal right to kneel or sit–or that teams have no right to stay in the locker room (in shame) during the National Anthem.
Yet the NFL is certainly far from a completely private organization.
It was only in 2015 that the league itself gave up its non-profit status. They didn’t do it because of altruism. They did it because it became embarrassing to disclose top executive compensation. Goodell received $35 million in salary and bonuses in 2013. That’s far more than former Wells-Fargo CEO John Stumpf, who was forced out by a scandal (he “only” made $19 million).
The billionaire’s club that owns the NFL’s franchises get a metric ton of cash from taxpayers to fund their shrines, which charge $100/game ticket prices for the cheap seats and $30 for a burger and fries.
The Chargers tried to extort $350 million from San Diego before giving up and moving. The Falcons did a wallet biopsy on Atlanta, because the perfectly serviceable Georgia Dome wasn’t posh enough for Arthur Blank: $600 million to build a new dome right next door and sell the naming rights to Mercedes-Benz.
Zygi Wilf got a cool half-billion from Minneapolis for U.S. Bank Stadium, albeit that one was actually needed to replace the Metrodome. Cincinnati’s taxpayers are required to buy every new bauble and bangle if at least 14 other NFL teams have it (totaling a staggering $920 million), after pumping $449 million into Paul Brown Stadium in 2000. Watch for the Bengals to extort a new stadium soon.
Indianapolis sprung $619 million of the $719 million to build Lucas Oil Stadium, which sits like a glass turtle on prime city real estate. And Jerry Jones is personally responsible for a daily car rental fee (a “sports tax”) in Dallas to fund the $444 million to build AT&T stadium.
If the people build the houses where NFL teams play, why shouldn’t the people have a say in how those houses are used?
But the owners are siding with the players, because they don’t want to have a walkout.
Trump will probably prevail here
In the end, economics will give Trump the edge. People will tire of the politics and simply want to watch football. But if politics and the national anthem overshadow the other two hours of football play, commercial breaks, and color commentary, then folks will tune out.
When the NFL finds itself hurting, and the networks still have to pay the league despite lower ratings and therefore lower ad revenue, they’ll quietly start pushing this issue to the background.
Watch for the NFL to issue some kind of statement from all the owners and the league that honors player feelings, while maintaining a league position of “we stand for the anthem.” It’s the only answer that makes sense.
Most people agree with Trump, and he knows it. Right or wrong for making the comment, Trump spoke as the voice of those who agree with him, and likely prevented a course of action that might have eliminated the anthem from NFL games in the future. That’s where it was going, you know.
As divisive as that might be, it needed to be dealt with, and I’m sort of grateful Trump did that.