By taking on NFL players over their anthem protests, the president shows he understands their fans better than they do

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Bruce DowbigginThe National Football League has recast its rules about kneeling in protest during The Star Spangled Banner. As is their wont, the NFL owners made things worse, not better, with their compromise.

Stated simply, players and coaches must stand for the playing of the anthem before NFL games. However, those with objections are told they can hide out in the dressing room until game time.

The new rules seem to have done little to quell the problems begun when former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick conspicuously used a kneel-down to announce his adherence to the Black Lives Matter agenda. Kaepernick remains a captive of his conscience, unemployable by NFL teams whose fans want him to do his protesting on his own time.

What really added kindling to the issue at the time, however, was the intrusion of U.S. President Donald Trump. The newly-minted president chose to cast the BLM political theatre as disrespect for the flag and the nation. Before the startled players knew it, their grandstanding was suddenly treason to many, who saw well-paid players’ protests as just a little rich for their tastes.

That sent the NFL’s billionaire owners into DEFCON-4 mode, scrambling to appease their fans while not aggravating their star players. Here’s how I saw it last October:

“There are many reasons Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Blowing up the NFL was not among them. Frankly, if you listed the targets Trump was least likely to hammer in the first year of his presidency, the NFL would have been high on that list.

“The guy apparently loves sports, owned a team in the old USFL, and many of the present owners are either friends or donors – or both. And the NFL constituency would appear to be Trump’s electoral red meat.

“And yet, here we are, almost halfway through another NFL season, and the fuse lit under the league by Trump is setting off charges beneath the league’s vaunted image – The Shield, as the marketers like to call it. The money-making machine whose business model was so bullet proof that it virtually ran itself.

“The major TV networks in the U.S. will pay the league $39.6 billion in a contract that goes till 2022. Merchandising, logo sales, stadium deals bring in billions more. The league has survived labour stoppages, DeflateGate, CTE and much more with nary a dent on The Shield.

“But with a few bombastic tweets, Trump has suddenly put the league on its back foot, exposed the previous scandals anew and forced the public … to reconsider their allegiance to teams’ stars and the myth of the Sunday sport as an apolitical diversion.

“Trump reopened an issue that the NFL’s gaffe-prone commissioner Roger Goodell thought he’d put to bed. Namely, disaffected QB Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during The Star Spangled Banner to pay lip service to the grievance agenda of Black Lives Matter.”

The initial uproar surrounding Kaepernick – and his current unemployment – burned brightly on social media before being subordinated by other shiny objects.

Then, amidst all the fires he was stoking with Congress, the media and Hollywood, Trump unexpectedly turned his sights on NFL players taking a knee during the anthem. “How dare they?” he thundered. Taking the knee was tantamount to disrespect for Old Glory.

The millionaire players, their agents and media lap dogs – the usual suspects who cry “racism” when the wash goes from rinse to spin cycle – decried Trump’s insensitivity. Almost all the NFL owners, petrified of losing their star players, paid lip service to racial harmony in a league that’s over 70 per cent black.

Some joined hands, others took a knee. Media water carriers like Keith Olbermann and Chris Cuomo lost their minds. Why wouldn’t the players complain? A pliant progressive media always gives them good wind therapy.

But then a funny thing happened.

A Latino player on the Pittsburgh Steelers, Alejandro Villanueva, said ‘screw this’ to the team staying in its dressing room for the anthem. The former Marine stood in the tunnel to the field, hand on heart, for the anthem. TV cameras found him. Instantly his became the most ordered NFL jersey in the nation.

Soon after, his coach Mike Tomlin, who is black, groused about lack of unity on the team – without mentioning Villanueva. Next day, a clearly brow-beaten Villenueva made a press appearance to recant his standing for the anthem while the team hid. His prepared statement said, ”Unfortunately, I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally. … Every single time I see that picture of me, standing by myself, I feel embarrassed.”

About the same time, the team’s star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is white, said he was sorry he hadn’t joined Villanueva for the anthem.

Can you get more tone deaf, more out-of-touch? The public instantly bought Trump, not Goodell’s pampered players. Fans burned jerseys, tickets, promoted boycotts, turned off their TVs. While the mainstream media whined about Trump’s dastardly behaviour, the public tuned them out. Patriotism was not a New England pun but a burning issue.

Next thing you knew, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones – who’d knelt with players in week one of the anthem controversy – was threatening to bench any players who upstaged the anthem. Other owners demanded a league-wide policy to cover their ample fannies.

After a heated owners’ meeting last week, the league announced it was asking players to stand for the anthem but wouldn’t force them. Call it a throwback to the lazy, hazy, crazy days of the Obama Agenda, when any grievance was a good grievance, accepted as gospel.

Goodell’s compromise went over well in the liberal silos of the coasts. But sidestepping loyalty was not an easy sell anywhere in Trump country between the coasts. In a nation where the pejorative term “white privilege” grates on tens of millions of working-class whites, putting BLM’s right to protest during work hours above the flag made Goodell’s compromise a loser.

Now, the cupidity of the NFL is fair game for those late-night comedians who’ve exhausted their Trump hate. Brain injury, the corrupt college development system, the injury plague decimating the league’s stars – all are being exploited. It doesn’t help that the salary-capped NFL seems to morphing into a league where everyone finishes 8-8.

The damage to The Shield is profound.

Why did Trump do it? Some would simply say, “Because he can.” But for a man widely ridiculed as an idiot, Trump understands the public intuitively. Just like Hamlet, his “madness” allows him to strip away the tissue of legend from the NFL fans’ eyes where they see “such black and grainèd spots as will not leave their tinct.”

POTUS 45 is about to carry out the NFL King on its Shield. And it wasn’t even close.

Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.


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