Trump and the NFL

Say what you will about President Donald Trump, he is certainly a master at controlling the national narrative, not to mention driving his opponents crazy. The leading news over the weekend ought to have been the Republican failure to repeal and replace Obamacare once again, news which does not reflect well on either Trump or the Republicans in Congress. Instead, by inserting a remark in a speech, that the NFL players who refuse to stand for the National Anthem ought to be fired, Trump changed the subject on everyone’s mind to an issue he can’t lose, placing his enemies in the media and in politics in the position of defending behavior that a great many Americans find indefensible.

This is not to say that Donald Trump is some sort of political genius. Since the Democratic Party has moved more and more to the extreme left and the cultural divide between the progressives and ordinary Americans has grown ever wider, it ought to be easy for any Republican to maneuver the opposition into such untenable positions. The fact that the Republicans have generally been unable to do so demonstrates Republican fecklessness more than Trump’s tactical genius.

The left has been trying to reframe this issue as a free speech issue. “How dare”, they exclaim, “this president infringe upon these athletes’ sacred right to peacefully protest injustice by suggesting they ought to be fired.” It is more than a little odd that the same people who have had no problem with tech companies firing workers who express dissenting views, social media censoring conservative opinions, or Antifa thugs rioting against certain conservative speakers on college candidate, and who called the peaceful Tea Party protests “political terrorists” are now concerned with freedom of expression, but let it pass. No one is arguing that these players do not have the right to protest. They absolutely do have that right. The issue is that there are appropriate times and places to conduct a political protest. Among the times and places where it is not appropriate to conduct a political protest is when you are on the job.

I have a right to express my political opinions on this blog and elsewhere, as long as I am on my time. If I am at work, however, I do not have an absolute right to express my opinions on social media when I am on my employer’s time. I am being paid to work, not express my opinions. In like manner, these athletes are being paid to play football, not engage in a political protest.  The people in the stands and watching on television want to watch a football game. They want to get away from politics. The athletes have ample opportunities to protest on their own time.

Not only is their protest inappropriate, but also counter-productive. Disrespecting the American flag or the national anthem is going to be offensive to many Americans, particularly the people most likely likely to be following football.  Refusing to stand for the national anthem is not easy to interpret as a protest against a particular issue, such as the treatment of African-Americans by the police. Most people are going to interpret such an action as protesting or disrespecting American in general. By not standing or kneeling for the national anthem, these football players are projecting contempt for their country, whether they intend it or not.

I cannot believe that offending people is a very good way to gain sympathy for a cause, no matter how noble or just. They could be kneeling to protest against mistreating puppies and kittens and people would still be angry. The fact that the leadership of the NFL had allowed the players to conduct these protests without considering the reaction of the fans demonstrates the growing divide between the elites who run our politics and entertainment and the great mass of deplorables who live in flyover country.

This is a divide that Donald Trump has been uncommonly good at exploiting for his own purposes. What is amazing is that his enemies keep walking into the trap, over and over.

This matter of athletes and the national anthem is not really a very important issue compared to the possibility of war with North Korea or the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico, but it is sad to see how something, like sports or entertainment, that should be bringing Americans together and away from politics is now being used to pull us apart. Can there be no part of life that can simply be enjoyed for its own sake and not be part of the Great American Cultural Revolution? I hope so.

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