A so­lu­tion to end ten­sion on own terms

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Chris­tine Bren­nan cbren­nan@us­ato­day.com USA TO­DAY Sports FOL­LOW COLUM­NIST CHRIS­TINE BREN­NAN @cbren­nans­ports for com­men­tary and in­sight on sports.

If there were any doubt about who re­ally is fight­ing whom in the con­tin­u­ing saga of the NFL an­them protests, Wed­nes­day morn­ing’s back and forth be­tween Don­ald Trump and the league should set­tle mat­ters once and for all.

At 6:47 a.m. ET, Trump tweeted: “It is about time that Roger Good­ell of the NFL is fi­nally de­mand­ing that all play­ers STAND for our great Na­tional An­them RE­SPECT OUR COUN­TRY.”

Only prob­lem with that tweet is that Good­ell said no such thing in a let­ter to all 32 clubs on Tues­day. Good­ell did not “de­mand” that all play­ers stand dur­ing the an­them. He said they “should stand,” reit­er­at­ing the lan­guage al­ready em­ployed in the league’s cur­rent an­them pol­icy while also say­ing it’s time for the league “to move past this con­tro­versy … to­gether with our play­ers.”

Nearly three hours after Trump tweeted, the NFL called him on his mis­take in one beau­ti­ful sen­tence: “Com­men­tary this morn­ing about the Com­mis­sioner’s po­si­tion on the An­them is not ac­cu­rate.”

The league went on to say it “is do­ing the hard work of try­ing to move from protest to progress, work­ing to bring peo­ple to­gether.”

Per­haps that means there’s some­one out there try­ing to pull us apart? Is there any­one out there with a Twit­ter ac­count try­ing to do that?

Since Trump in­serted him­self into what was a dy­ing is­sue late last month, many in the news me­dia have turned the an­them protest story into an own­ers-vs. play­ers bat­tle, which is ex­actly what Trump wants.

But that’s just not right. The own­ers and play­ers cer­tainly have their dif­fer­ences, but those pale in com­par­i­son to the havoc Trump is wreak­ing on both par­ties.

If we’re go­ing to be cor­rect about this, we need to call this what it is: Trump wag­ing war on the NFL for his own self­ish po­lit­i­cal pur­poses.

This was not a fight the NFL wanted. Trump dragged the league into this one with his de­spi­ca­ble, race-bait­ing, “son of a bitch” com­ment about an­them protesters in a po­lit­i­cal speech in Alabama nearly three weeks ago.

But like it or not, this is the fight the NFL now faces. As much as the league says it wants to work with its play­ers on the very sig­nif­i­cant is­sues some are high­light­ing with their bended knees and locked arms, it can’t when a hu­man noise ma­chine with a cell­phone con­tin­ues to pound away from the vast be­yond.

So, what to do? There’s a very sim­ple an­swer: Go back to the days be­fore 2009 when teams were not re­quired to come out of the locker room un­til after the an­them was played (ex­cept for the Su­per Bowl and after 9/11).

With no play­ers on the field, the an­them will go on, fans will stand at at­ten­tion or stand in line for na­chos or run in from the park­ing lot or do what­ever it is they do dur­ing the an­them, and the con­tro­versy — at least the vis­i­ble part of it — will be over.

This quick fix would de­prive Trump of vis­ual ev­i­dence of player protests, which has pro­vided the oxy­gen for his in­ces­sant and in­cen­di­ary tweets. He’d find some­thing else to tweet about, for sure, but it likely wouldn’t be about play­ers on the side­lines dur­ing the an­them, be­cause they wouldn’t be there any­more.

What this so­lu­tion must not do is stop the on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tions be­tween the play­ers and the league over the is­sues of so­cial in­jus­tice that Colin Kaeper­nick first drew at­ten­tion to on the 49ers side­line last year, con­cerns that have faded the past cou­ple of weeks as play­ers felt the need to join forces to protest against Trump.

Those who would be an­gry to lose the pow­er­ful im­agery of play­ers tak­ing a knee should con­sider that they’d also likely lose Trump in this deal. Get­ting him out of the way would al­low the league, the clubs and the play­ers to ad­dress these im­por­tant is­sues calmly and wisely.

Keep­ing play­ers in the locker room is a far bet­ter an­swer than the pre­pos­ter­ous plan Jerry Jones floated the other day, the one in which he said he would im­me­di­ately bench any play­ers who protested dur­ing the an­them. How would that work if, say, quar­ter­back Dak Prescott took a knee, or per­haps the en­tire Dallas Cow­boys wide re­ceiv­ing corps?

One nag­ging con­cern among NFL play­ers has been Trump’s endgame, that if and when they stop protest­ing and stand at at­ten­tion, Trump would be able to de­clare vic­tory. Can you imag­ine what that would look like? The tweets might never end.

Stay­ing in the locker room just might solve that prob­lem too. The pa­tri­otic side­line scene Trump is dream­ing about can’t hap­pen if the play­ers aren’t there.

DALE ZANINE, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Some Bills play­ers have knelt dur­ing the na­tional an­them prior to kick­offs.

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