NFL should get out of pa­tri­o­tism busi­ness

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THOM LOVERRO

You know, the NFL could solve this whole na­tional an­them con­tro­versy pretty eas­ily.

They could sim­ply get their play­ers out of the pa­tri­o­tism busi­ness.

I get it’s been good for the NFL, with the De­fense Depart­ment, which, ac­cord­ing to a 2015 Sen­ate over­sight re­port had spent more than $10 mil­lion on mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing with pro sports teams — par­tic­u­larly NFL teams.

And I don’t blame the De­fense Depart­ment for spend­ing that money. If you are try­ing to win over the hearts and minds of young men — and women — you, like ev­ery other ad­ver­tiser, want to do busi­ness with the NFL.

But it’s be­come clear now that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze any­more.

What­ever the rea­sons were for the NFL and the De­fense Depart­ment to get into the pa­tri­o­tism busi­ness to­gether, those rea­sons have been drowned by the de­bate over play­ers kneel­ing in protest dur­ing the play­ing of the na­tional an­them be­fore the start of NFL games.

The ham­mer dropped by Pres­i­dent Trump crit­i­ciz­ing those protests has crushed any mes­sage both the De­fense Depart­ment was try­ing to send to the pub­lic and also any mes­sage the pro­test­ers have been try­ing to send to that same pub­lic.

No­body is sure any­more why they are kneel­ing — or stand­ing. So it may be time to sim­ply keep the play­ers in­side

the locker room dur­ing the play­ing of the na­tional an­them — where they can stand, kneel, scream, or what­ever they want to do while out­side the fans in the stands can do what they have been do­ing for years — stand­ing for the na­tional an­them.

The is­sue doesn’t seem to be go­ing away, in large part be­cause Trump won’t drop the ball.

Ini­tially, when Trump jumped on this is­sue sev­eral weeks ago, it was likely a po­lit­i­cal win for him — most polls showed that a sig­nif­i­cant amount of the pub­lic were turned off by the an­them kneel­ing protests. The mes­sage play­ers were try­ing to de­liver — a protest against racism and in­jus­tice — was not be­ing heard. Since then, Trump has hi­jacked the whole con­cept of an­them protests and made it one of his Twit­ter ral­ly­ing cries.

He has con­tin­ued to push, cit­ing an NFL game day op­er­a­tions man­ual that re­port­edly states, “The Na­tional An­them must be played prior to ev­ery NFL game, and all play­ers must be on the side­line for the Na­tional An­them. Dur­ing the Na­tional An­them, play­ers on the field and bench area should stand at at­ten­tion, face the flag, hold hel­mets in their left hand, and re­frain from talk­ing.”

Trump, who has de­manded that NFL com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell force play­ers to stand for the na­tional an­them, also re­port­edly called Dal­las Cow­boys owner Jerry Jones to cite to him the game day op­er­a­tions man­ual in­volv­ing the an­them. Jones has said any player who “dis­re­spects the flag” will not play.

But a league spokesman said Wed­nes­day that the NFL has no plans to force play­ers to stand for the na­tional an­them. In fact, the league and the NFL Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion have a meet­ing sched­uled for next week dur­ing the league meet­ings to talk about the an­them is­sue — what­ever that is­sue is, at this point.

“Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell reached out to NFLPA Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor DeMau­rice Smith to­day and both he and player lead­er­ship will at­tend the League meet­ings next week,” the league said in a press re­lease. “There has been no change in the cur­rent pol­icy re­gard­ing the an­them. The agenda will be a con­tin­u­a­tion of how to make progress on the im­por­tant so­cial is­sues that play­ers have vo­cal­ized. Ev­ery­one who is part of our NFL com­mu­nity has a tremen­dous re­spect for our coun­try, our flag, our an­them and our mil­i­tary, and we are com­ing to­gether to deal with th­ese is­sues in a civil and con­struc­tive way.”

Pri­vately, both sides will likely be say­ing — how do we get Trump to move on? He might want to pay at­ten­tion to the ca­nary in the coal mine — con­ser­va­tive ra­dio host Rush Lim­baugh, who sug­gested that the pres­i­dent in­deed move on in a re­cent ra­dio broad­cast.

“There’s a part of this story that’s start­ing to make me ner­vous, and it’s this: I am very un­com­fort­able with the pres­i­dent of the United States be­ing able to dic­tate the be­hav­ior and power of any­body,” Lim­baugh said. “That’s not where this should be com­ing from.

“Trump is con­tin­u­ally tweet­ing — I know what he’s do­ing, and I un­der­stand why he’s do­ing it, and his mo­tives are pure; don’t mis­un­der­stand,” Lim­baugh said. “But I don’t think that it is use­ful or help­ful for any em­ployee any­where to be forced to do some­thing be­cause the govern­ment says they must.”

Ev­ery­one seems to want Pres­i­dent Trump to take a knee in the end zone when it comes to tak­ing a knee for the na­tional an­them — or else the league may take one when it comes to dis­plays of pa­tri­o­tism.

● Thom Loverro hosts his weekly pod­cast “Cigars & Curve­balls” Wed­nes­days avail­able on iTunes, Google Play and the re­Volver pod­cast net­work.

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