The league thinks it can appease the president on player protests, but Trumps latest broadside makes it clear thats not the case
Its funny. Its almost as if the president wants people talking about a handful of NFL players taking a knee at the start of a preseason football game rather than, say, anything else currently going on in the United States. On Thursday night, a couple of Miami Dolphins players took a knee during the national anthem as part of an ongoing symbolic protest against social injustice and police brutality. Once again, president Donald Trump went on Twitter to denounce the players and demand that the NFL put a stop to it.
At this point, it feels like an endless cycle. Whenever the subject hits the news, the president feels the need to invoke the issue for easy political points, particularly when a news cycle is tilting against him (which is to say, frequently). This time around, it feels like the NFL brought Trumps wrath upon itself: theres a fair chance we wouldnt be dealing with this mess in August if the league had just arrived at a sensible resolution during the summer.
The issue of players protesting during the anthem had been receding from public memory entering the offseason. Then the league decided they had to stir the pot by unveiling a compromise, without consulting the NFL players union, which would allow individual teams to punish players for not standing for the anthem. Then, of course, word leaked out that the Miami Dolphins would suspend players up to four games for not standing. The news of such a draconian punishment inspired enough outrage that the NFL had to immediately issue a joint statement with the union that no new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks as they negotiated with the NFLPA.
When the NFL attempted to give free rein to teams to set their own punishments, they were making it inevitable that a team like Miami would go to the absurd length of handing out suspensions for protesting longer than some players receive for committing acts of domestic violence. Its not a coincidence that while multiple players protested ways other than kneeling on Thursday night, by either remaining in the locker room or raising their firsts during the Star-Spangled Banner, the two players who made a show of kneeling were Dolphins: Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson.
Of course, even the absurd potential penalty that Dolphins ownership would have handed Stills and Wilson wouldnt likely be enough for the president. Immediately after the NFL announced it was reviewing their policy in July, Trump name-checked out commissioner Roger Goodell, demanding that kneeling players be taken out of the game and that repeat offenders be suspended for the rest of the season without pay.
The NFL refuses to realize that only the most extreme measures will ever be enough for Trump to lay off the criticism, because the continued existence of these protests are in his best interests. The league is trying to fix a problem for the benefit of a president who benefits from division and thus doesnt really want to see the problem fixed.
In his definitive exploration of Trumps obsession with the NFL player protests, Deadspins David Roth makes a convincing case that Trump has no desire for the NFL to resolve the issue to his satisfaction. It turns out that the controversy provides a never-ending supply of red meat to his base, which gets riled up beyond reason at the sight of African-American athletes peacefully protesting. It also doesnt hurt that this manufactured outrage has successfully convinced its intended audience that the target of these protests is not racially motivated violence within the criminal justice system but rather the anthem, the military or even the flag itself.
When serious debates devolve into referendums on performative patriotism, Trump tends to benefit. Roth cites a Wall Street Journal report where Trump tells Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones this is a very winning, strong issue for me. Tell everybody, you cant win this one. This one lifts me. Roth rightfully points out that, for this reason, its impossible for the league to fully appease him: He is pushing and pushing and pushing at this issue because that is what he does, and because he is nothing without something to push against. There is no compromise to make.
Short of banishing every offending player from the league and free agents Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid will be the first to tell you that this is very much on the table its hard to see what the NFL could possibly do to win here. When Trump finds the right target to attack, the one that will get his audience to cheer him on the most, he sticks with it. This is, after all, the man who is still dropping Crooked Hillary references on a nearly daily basis, nearly two years after the 2016 election. Perhaps he will go back to attacking the league for becoming too soft because its making rule changes to make the game slightly less crippling to those who play it: Theyre ruining the game. Thats what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game. Promoting needless violence seems to be a very winning, strong issue for Trump, too.
In any case, the NFL will surely provide the president with some sort of controversy he can use to motivate his base and otherwise occupy the rest of us. Nothing the NFL has done during Goodells reign has shown that it has any capability of handling any crisis, large or small, without alienating every party involved. Maybe thats what makes it such an appealing target for Trump: hes found a foe that not even his fiercest critics have any interest in defending.
If you enjoyed our content, we'd really appreciate some "love" with a share or two.
And ... Don't forget to have fun!