Trump’s spat with NFL de­signed to di­vide

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page - Gene Lyons Arkansas Times

For nor­mal peo­ple, sports of­ten serve as a refuge from pol­i­tics. The pres­i­dent of the United States is not among them. Don­ald Trump’s idea of a spec­ta­tor sport, it can’t be em­pha­sized too of­ten, is WWE pro­fes­sional wrestling: a phony, pre-scripted spec­ta­cle of­ten on racial and eth­nic themes, mainly fea­tur­ing steroid abusers in­suf­fi­ciently ath­letic for real pro com­pe­ti­tion.

Not for noth­ing was Trump voted into the Pro­fes­sional Wrestling Hall of Fame years be­fore he was elected to any­thing else. Swag­ger­ing, boast­ing, name-call­ing and throw­ing laugh­ably fake punches at an­tag­o­nists who top­ple like bowl­ing pins -- those are Trump’s skills.

Along the way, he ap­pears to have learned how gullible and eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated mil­lions of Amer­i­cans can be, how dis­tracted by pub­lic­ity stunts, how ea­ger to boo car­toon vil­lains and cheer make­be­lieve he­roes such as him­self. But who’d have thought that even Trump would at­tempt to gov­ern the coun­try that way?

His at­tacks on pro­fes­sional ath­letes are ba­si­cally Big Brother’s “Two Min­utes Hate” in foot­ball cleats.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL own­ers, when some­body dis­re­spects our flag,” Trump told an Alabama au­di­ence, “to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s FIRED!’”

Lis­ten­ing to crowd re­ac­tion, I sus­pect they’d have cheered even louder if he’d shouted “Send those dark­ies back to Africa!” Be­cause that’s what it was all about. About pre­cisely this, as seen in a Face­book com­ment on a fam­ily mem­ber’s page: “Most NFL fans are white Pa­tri­ots that are not go­ing to pay $300 to $1000 to go see a bunch of en­ti­tled blacks take a big (bleep) on the na­tion! One of the big­gest things that makes mil­lion­aires out of poor lower IQ blacks is foot­ball and they are too stupid not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg for some dum­b­ass rea­son like sit­ting through the na­tional an­them.”

Ac­tu­ally, they knelt. Colin Kaeper­nick’s team­mate Eric Reid wrote a col­umn for The New York Times ex­plain­ing why: “We chose to kneel be­cause it’s a re­spect­ful ges­ture. I re­mem­ber think­ing our pos­ture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”

“It baf­fles me that our protest is still be­ing mis­con­strued as dis­re­spect­ful to the coun­try, flag and mil­i­tary per­son­nel. We chose it be­cause it’s ex­actly the op­po­site. It has al­ways been my un­der­stand­ing that the brave men and women who fought and died for our coun­try did so to en­sure that we could live in a fair and free so­ci­ety, which in­cludes the right to speak out in protest.”

Reid, an LSU All-Amer­i­can, wanted to make a state­ment about a po­lice killing of a black man in Ba­ton Rouge. He also pointed out that the much­crit­i­cized Kaeper­nick has do­nated and raised mil­lions to feed the hun­gry in So­ma­lia and the USA. He finds it puz­zling that Pres­i­dent Trump calls peo­ple like him “sons of bitches” while de­fend­ing Char­lottesville neo-Nazis as “very fine peo­ple.”

I’m not al­ways a big fan of his prose style, but The At­lantic’s Ta-Ne­hisi Coates may have put it most suc­cinctly: “His ide­ol­ogy is white supremacy, in all its tru­cu­lent and sanc­ti­mo­nious power.” Ul­ti­mately, it’s a loser’s game. How things will shake out po­lit­i­cally re­mains to be seen. In the short run, few politi­cians have suf­fered from wrap­ping them­selves in the flag. But the re­ac­tion of NFL own­ers and, frankly, white foot­ball stars has not gone Trump’s way. Even New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots’ quar­ter­back Tom Brady, his some­time golf­ing part­ner, has de­fended play­ers’ right to protest.

In­ter­est­ing that Brady’s no-show at the White House last year passed with­out com­ment, don’t you think? Mean­while, Trump made a per­sonal at­tack on Golden State’s bril­liant point guard Steph Curry for ex­press­ing his own re­luc­tance to go. The pres­i­dent may have failed to take into ac­count that sports stars have con­stituen­cies of their own. My view is that some­body who’s got a grudge against Steph Curry has se­ri­ous prob­lems. Bas­ket­ball’s a quintessen­tially Amer­i­can game, and few ath­letes com­pete with his kind of open-hearted joy.

On the other hand, far bet­ter that Trump should pick fights with the likes of Curry and NFL Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell than con­tinue his an­gry-tod­dler dis­pute with North Korean dic­ta­tor Kim Jung-un. You know, the one where two in­se­cure brag­garts threaten to ex­ter­mi­nate mil­lions with nu­clear weapons.

Sur­rounded by body­guards all his life, Trump has no idea what can go wrong when one blowhard con­fronts some­body even cra­zier. There’s no sign the Korean dem­a­gogue has a clue either. North Korea has been mak­ing ab­surd threats against the United States for three gen­er­a­tions now, largely to keep its own pop­u­la­tion in thrall.

It’s in “King Lear”: “As flies to wan­ton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.”

Mean­while, come later on, I’ll be tuned in to the Bos­ton Red Sox game. Three blessed hours, give or take, where the name “Trump” will not be men­tioned.

Arkansas Times colum­nist Gene Lyons is a Na­tional Magazine Award win­ner and coau­thor of “The Hunt­ing of the Pres­i­dent” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eu­gene­lyons2@ya­

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