No matter how hard anyone tries, there is no way to completely separate sports and politics. Look at April 15, 1947 (Jackie Robinson), the 1980 Winter Olympics hockey semifinals (USSR vs. USA with Cold War tensions), the 1991 Rugby World Cup (post-Apartheid South Africa) or 2014 World Cup (Brazilian turmoil).
Sports and politics go together like sea salt and vinegar. Some people just love those chips, others not so much.
So, it was no surprise that the events of the past weekend transpired. And it is a true shame.
Let’s start with Donald Trump, the President of the United States. At a rally last Friday in Alabama, he said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of the NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a b**** off the field right now?'”
Has any president used that kind of language while in the office? It just does not seem very presidential.
Of all of the things that should be taking the president’s attention, why take on the NFL? Is there not enough for him to worry about, both at home and abroad? The NFL seems like a small target in the current political landscape.
Former NFL player Anquan Boldin stated it best, saying, “It is disheartening to see where his heart is.”
Given the fact that the objective of the protests, agree with them or not, is to bring the country together, the President’s actions have seemed to do the opposite.
As for the players, they joined together when they were getting pushed around. Several teams linked arms on the sidelines. Some team owners even joined the players on the sideline.
Other members of ownership made comments against Trump, such as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. “Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community, and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful,” Kraft said in a statement Sunday.
The message sent by NFL players and owners was simple — we are in this together.
Even the standout moment from the protest symbolized that, when Alejandro Villanueva stood alone at the end of the tunnel before the Pittsburgh Steelers game Sunday.
The Steelers had decided as a team to stay off the field during the national anthem, but Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, stepped forward. When he addressed the media on Monday, he clarified what happened.
After the decision was reached about the team staying off the field, Villanueva asked quarterback Ben Rothensberger to define what was “inside” and if he could go to a spot where he could see the flag. The quarterback said yes and that the team would be right behind him.
When the moment came, Villanueva went to his spot, but confusion from the other players led to the situation where he stood alone.
“So essentially what we can get out of this is we butchered our plan to sort of have a response for the national anthem and respect everyone’s opinions,” Villanueva said.
He continued saying how in reality the team was behind him, despite the appearance. Villanueva also commented on his thoughts on the situation from his veteran standpoint.
“So out of all these players in the NFL who are taking a knee, I don’t think as a veteran I take offense,” Villanueva said.
From all the comments on social media, there are plenty of differing opinions on the subject. Those just highlight the divide that has opened now between the people of this nation.
It is a divide that will continue to grow.
The worse thing about this, from Trump’s standpoint, is he just made sure this was an issue going forward.
This year, the protests were starting to become a background issue and not really affecting the product on the field. It is possible that the protests themselves were going to die out in due time.
Now, the protests will grow and gain momentum.
But maybe, just maybe, this was Trump’s plan. What he did, whether he wanted to or not, was give everyone something to talk about.
News outlets were flooded Sunday with stories on this issue instead of about North Korea or the Graham-Cassidy bill.
It also gave a reason for his base to rally together again. It is no surprise that the Trump base is very patriotic. But if there is one thing they have lacked recently, it is a win.
It is hard to nail down a proper win for Trump as president, one that will leave a legacy after he is gone.
In this way, it is easy to equate Trump’s performance to a sporting event itself. It is easiest to compare him to an English soccer match. When the home team starts to struggle, there is a palpable tension among the fans. A team down 3-0 will not create excitement in the crowd, but when the home side wins a penalty, some energy returns.
With this situation, Trump has injected some energy into his base, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to win.
The most definite win would be if an owner fires a protesting player, but the blowback of that would be huge for the owner. It is hard to imagine a case where this happens.
Other than that, NFL revenues will have to drop a large amount, tickets sales go down and TV numbers plummet. In a nation that still puts up with Thursday night games of the quality of the Rams and 49ers, it seems unlikely.
From that point, the only result from this weekend is that there are two sides of a widening gap that are more unified than ever.