Donald Trump v the NFL: A battle the president can never win

By Alasdair Hooper

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The passage above is the first amendment of the United States Constitution reaffirming the right of citizens to express freedom of speech and to peaceably protest.

It’s a shame president Donald Trump has forgotten this.

On Friday night, during a speech in Alabama, the 45th president launched a wholly un-presidential attack on the NFL players who have kneeled in protest of the national anthem, which was started last year by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

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

 

However much some onlookers may wish this is simply an outtake from The Apprentice the fact of the matter is the US president has ignited a storm he can’t possibly win.

Sunday’s NFL fixtures were awash with protests – beginning with the game at London’s Wembley Stadium where more than 20 players from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens knelt or linked arms during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Even the Jaguars owner Shahid Kahn – also the owner of Fulham football club – took part in the protest with his players.

 

“I was expecting something – we all were – because the president’s remarks were shocking,” said two-time Super Bowl winner Osi Umenyiora who now works as a pundit for the BBC.

“As president of the United States, you just can’t say these things. He threw down a challenge to the NFL players.

“He called them sons of bitches and I don’t remember him saying that about the white supremacists.

“He has some friends who are owners of NFL teams and maybe he thought that they would back him up, but the opposite happened.”

Indeed exactly the opposite happened – owners across the league united in favour of their players in a way never seen before.

The New York Giants owner John Mara, who has previously stated many of his team’s fans would never attend another game if they saw a player refuse to stand for the anthem, said this week – alongside co-owner Steve Tisch – that Trump’s remarks were “inappropriate, offensive and divisive”.

“We are proud of our players,” the pair explained, “the vast majority of whom use their NFL platform to make a positive difference in our society.”

Furthermore neither the Seattle Seahawks nor the Tennessee Titans turned out for the national anthem before kick-off at their game, hours after the Pittsburgh Steelers did the same in Chicago.

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Because here is the newsflash for Donald J Trump – whether you like it or not sport and politics are intertwined and have been for a long, long time.

The 1968 Olympics Black Power salute conducted by Tommie Smith and John Carlos; Muhammad Ali and his opposition to the Vietnam War; James McClean and his refusal to wear a poppy – the examples through history go on and on.

But here is the sticking point – when did a peaceful protest call for an individual to effectively get the sack?

While people in the UK may never have the same level of attachment to our flag and anthem – therefore it can be difficult to relate to the level of disrespect many Americans feel – where in a civilized democracy does expressing your views in a peaceful manner result in you being fired as Trump is advocating?

As long as the players still go out and do their jobs each week to the best of their abilities there surely can be no way for a team to fire a player on this basis.

 

The president’s woeful slamming of the NFL has also sent shockwaves throughout other sports.

As we mentioned in episode six of this podcast the NBA Champions, the Golden State Warriors, were considering not attending the office of the presidency in celebration because of the man that currently occupied that position.

This week, in suitably chaotic fashion, Trump announced that Stephen Curry, the popular two-time MVP for the Warriors, would not be welcome at the White House for the commemorative visit: “Going to the White House is considered a great honour for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”

An invitation that was never sent out but whatever…

However, on Monday the NHL Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, poured more hot water on the issue by announcing they would be going to the White House – resulting in Trump calling them out as a ‘great team’ on Twitter.

It’s a decision many cannot understand considering the current climate but one you can appreciate and respect – the Penguins players are predominantly white, and have a number of Canadian’s and Russian’s on their roster.

One thing is for sure; no one is calling on them all to be fired for expressing their opinion and their desire to attend.

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So how is this going to end for the president? Not well.

Considering his country was recently battered by one of the strongest hurricanes in history, is facing a diplomatic crisis with the combustible North Korea and near neighbor Puerto Rico has been decimated by another mega-storm it seems a strange time for Trump to pick a fight with the NFL.

Whether it was unintentional or not Trump has stoked the flames with his comments and has ignited the conversation Kaepernick wanted about race in the USA.

To do it in such incendiary fashion only forces more individuals to take up the fight and it has now become a global talking point.

Colin Kaepernick may not have a team anymore but, ultimately, he is winning his greater battle.

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