If there was any doubt about who really is fighting whom in the continuing saga of the NFL anthem protests, Wednesday morning’s back and forth between Donald Trump and the league should settle matters once and for all.
At 6:47 a.m. ET, Trump tweeted the following: “It is about time that Roger Goodell of the NFL is finally demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem-RESPECT OUR COUNTRY.”
Only problem with that tweet is that Goodell said no such thing in a letter to all 32 clubs on Tuesday. Goodell did not “demand” that all players stand during the anthem. He said they “should stand,” reiterating the language already employed in the league’s current anthem policy while also saying it’s time for the league “to move past this controversy…together with our players.”
Nearly three hours after Trump tweeted, the NFL called him on his mistake in one beautiful sentence:
"Commentary this morning about the Commissioner’s position on the Anthem is not accurate.”
The league went on to say it “is doing the hard work of trying to move from protest to progress, working to bring people together.”
Perhaps that means there’s someone out there trying to pull us apart? Is there anyone out there with a Twitter account trying to do that?
Since Trump inserted himself into what was a dying issue late last month, many in the news media have turned the anthem protest story into an owners-vs.-players battle, which is exactly what Trump wants.
But that’s just not right. The owners and players certainly have their differences, but those pale in comparison to the havoc Trump is wreaking on both parties.
If we’re going to be correct about this, we need to call this what it is: Trump waging war on the NFL for his own selfish political purposes.
This was not a fight the NFL wanted. Trump dragged the league into this one with his despicable, race-baiting, “son of a bitch” comment about anthem protesters in a political speech in Alabama nearly three weeks ago.
But like it or not, this is the fight the NFL now faces. As much as the league says it wants to work with its players on the very significant issues some are highlighting with their bended knees and locked arms, it can’t when a human noise machine with a cell phone continues to pound away from the vast beyond.
So, what to do? There’s a very simple answer: Go back to the days before 2009 when teams were not required to come out of the locker room until after the anthem was played (except for the Super Bowl and after 9/11).
With no players on the field, the anthem will go on, fans will stand at attention or stand in line for nachos or run in from the parking lot or do whatever it is they do during the anthem, and the controversy — at least the visible part of it — will be over.
This quick fix would deprive Trump of visual evidence of player protests, which has provided the oxygen for his incessant and incendiary tweets. He’d find something else to tweet about, for sure, but it likely wouldn’t be about players on the sidelines during the anthem, because they wouldn’t be there anymore.
What this solution must not do is stop the ongoing conversations between the players and the league over the issues of social injustice that Colin Kaepernick first drew attention to on the 49ers sideline last year, concerns that have faded the past couple of weeks as players felt the need to join forces to protest against Trump.
Those who would be angry to lose the powerful imagery of players taking a knee should consider that they’d also likely lose Trump in this deal. Getting him out of the way would allow the league, the clubs and the players to address these important issues calmly and wisely.
Keeping players in the locker room is a far better answer than the preposterous plan Jerry Jones floated the other day, the one in which he said he would immediately bench any players who protested during the anthem. How would that work if, say, quarterback Dak Prescott took a knee, or perhaps the entire Dallas Cowboys wide receiving corps?
One nagging concern among NFL players has been Trump’s end game, that if and when they stop protesting and stand at attention, Trump would be able to declare victory. Can you imagine what that would look like? The tweets might never end.
Staying in the locker room just might solve that problem too. The patriotic sideline scene Trump is dreaming about can’t happen if the players aren’t there.