- President Donald Trump disinvited the Philadelphia Eagles from their White House visit after it became clear that few players were going to make the trip.
- More importantly to the future of the NFL, Trump made it clear that he is not going to stop criticising the league over protests during the anthem, despite attempts by the league to appease the president.
- Instead, the league has angered its players and more fans by appearing to cave to Trump and reproach its players.
- The NFL has taken a touchy subject and made it worse by angering both the left and the right, a nightmare of the worst kind in this political climate.
When the NFL approved its new policy requiring players on the field to stand during the national anthem, it was easy to see a path to a nightmare scenario for the league in which it angered its most important partners – the players – and failed to accomplish its most important goal – appeasing President Donald Trump and his base.
Two weeks later, that nightmare has already become a reality.
On Monday, Trump disinvited the Philadelphia Eagles from their planned trip to the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl win. The move was made after it became clear that the number of players in attendance would be quite small – possibly as few as two.
More importantly to the NFL’s future, it is now clear that Trump is not going to let up on his criticism of the league and its players, despite the new anthem policy – one which, by the way,Trump celebrated with a victory lap when it was first announced.
Trump is not lifting his foot off the NFL’s neck
After the White House disinvited the Eagles with a statement,Trump took to Twitter to explain the decision. In that tweet, Trump also took a shot at allowing players to stay in the locker room during the anthem:
While the NFL tried to give the players a method of protest that did not involve kneeling, the optics of players staying in the locker room might actually be worse. This would become apparent if one team is on the field for the anthem and the other is in the locker room – or if half the players from both sides are on the sidelines and the absence of others is obvious.
Critics could also look at staying in the locker room as even more disrespectful as it could be perceived as “ignoring” the anthem.
Still, the link between staying in the locker room and the Eagles’ trip to the White House is not clear, as no Eagles players kneeled during the 2017 season. But in making the connection anyway, it was clear Trump wanted to keep the anthem issue on the national radar.
It was also painfully obvious that this would happen.
The anthem issue lifts Trump
According to a sworn deposition reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and given by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones during Colin Kaepernick’s collusion case against the NFL, Trump made it clear that the anthem policy was vital to him and his supporters.
“This is a very winning, strong issue for me,” Trump said in a phone call to Jones, according to the deposition. “Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.”
With plenty of controversies engulfing the White House, there was no reason to believe that Trump would suddenly drop an issue that “lifts” him.
And yet, some in the NFL admitted that the wrath of Trump’s Twitter was a significant factor in the new policy. Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy laughed when asked by Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated if Trump’s reactions influenced the owners.
“Oh yeah,” Murphy said. “It was more how [Trump] might react, anticipating that. Also, how the fans will react, how the media will react.”
Jones also said Trump was an influence.
Trump “certainly initiated some of the thinking, and was a part of the entire picture,” Jones told Breer.
The NFL now has a bigger problem
The NFL failed in its attempt to appease Trump, instead reopening a sensitive wound with its players by going behind their backs and implementing a new rule designed to shame them into standing during the anthem by threatening fines against the teams.
The relationship with players seemed to have healed somewhat during the 2017 season as the two sides attempted to work together on the anthem issue. Instead, the league essentially told its players, “If you kneel we are not punishing you. We’re taking money out of somebody else’s pockets. And, oh, by the way, you might still get punished by your team anyway.”
Other players are fed up, in large part, because it looks like the NFL caved to Trump by reproaching the players. This included Eagles defensive end Chris Long, who has not kneeled but has supported those who did:
“This is fear of a diminished bottom line,” Long tweeted. “It’s also fear of a president turning his base against a corporation. This is not patriotism. Don’t get it confused. These owners don’t love America more than the players demonstrating and taking real action to improve it. It also lets you, the fan, know where our league stands. I will continue to be committed to affecting change with my platform. I’m someone who’s always looked at the anthem as a declaration of ideals, including the right to peaceful protest. Our league continues to fall short on this issue.”
On top of all this, the league further angered fans who support the players’ rights to protest peacefully, especially in stadiums that are often publicly funded.
In other words, the NFL has somehow taken a touchy subject and made it worse by angering both the left and the right.
In 2018, that’s the worst kind of nightmare.
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