One of the very best things about growing older (I turn 40 this month holy shit OMG OMG) is that one gains a bit of perspective.
When I was a child, the NFL was my obsession. I was a diehard Raiders fan, for no other reason than the Raiders were a particularly good team in the mid-80’s and Columbus, Ohio didn’t have an pro squad. I lived and died with each win and loss. I played John Madden and Joe Montana Football on the Sega Genesis with my best friend every day. I wore Raiders hats and Marcus Allen jerseys.
Of course, I then proceeded to grow up and stop worrying about the exploits of grown men who don’t know me, and I began to understand professional sports for what they are: entertainment. I still enjoy watching sports, but I view them the same way that many people view going to the movies—a nice way to kill a couple of hours with a healthy dose of escapism. It drives my friends and family crazy when they ask me who I’m rooting for and I say, “Nobody. I just like watching the games.”
It goes without saying that there are tens of millions of people who feel completely differently about professional sports, and, in particular, the National Football League. The NFL has dispatched all other pro sports with relative ease, thanks in no small part to fantasy games and betting, but also due to the physical nature of the game. Joe Sixpack feels a connection to NFL players—they work hard, just like he does. They go home dirty, bruised and bleeding, just like he does. And they love America, just like he does.
Whoops. Scratch that last bit.
When Colin Kaepernick, backup quarterback and the adopted son of two white parents, decided to protest police brutality against minorities by kneeling for the national anthem last season, I called him a troll. While statistics and data can always be cherry-picked to suit the needs of the editorialist, there is, at the very least, significant doubt about the validity of his point. Of course, the people who support #blacklivesmatter are nearly entirely the very same people who are saying that only police should have guns. I don’t get it either.
However, when a rather significant number of players began to join in the now-unemployed Kaepernick’s protest (which just proves that he’s unemployed because he’s a poor quarterback, and for no other reason), Donald Trump just couldn’t help himself—he had to comment.
Now, I have several personal doubts about Mr. Trump’s dedication and love for the flag of our nation. As many have pointed out, he made every effort to avoid military service in his youth, and I personally believe that his “America First” and “Make America Great Again” slogans were carefully and skillfully crafted to tap into an undervalued flyover country base. To his credit, however, he has followed through on some (not all) of the promises made in his campaign to restore American pride and dignity.
And with mounting pressure regarding the Mueller investigation (which, TBH, I don’t see the big deal about Russian influence, but that’s another topic for another time), Trump again demonstrated his skill of deflecting and distracting by doubling down on his anti-NFL rhetoric. I know this because the Google tells me so.
I wonder how many journalists have ever actually played blackjack? Regardless, Trump did the thing he does that makes Democrats so angry—he outsmarted them. He remembered the reason Americans voted for him in the first place, that he promised to put America First. And what better (and easier) way to demonstrate his love for the country than to shine a spotlight on “spoiled millionaires?” He didn’t back down, like any other politician would under such media pressure—he reveled in it. He continued to apply pressure to team owners through backchannels. He tweeted about it constantly. In other words, he acted just like Donald Trump.
Foolishly, the liberal media forgot that just because the NFL exists in New York, Boston, and Washington D.C., that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t also exist in Cincinnati, Dallas, and Nashville. They forgot that #blacklivesmatter, coastal elites, and college campus SJW never cared about the NFL in the first place—Trump supporters and Republicans do. And while no amount of virtue signalling can make a Women’s Studies major at Columbia care about football, it sure as hell can turn off a Green Bay Packers fan.
So guess what? As the protests increased, the ratings tanked. Even a cross promotion with the new Star Wars film (Stormtroopers marched onto the field, with conspicuously absent blaster rifles) and premiering The Last Jedi‘s latest trailer couldn’t prevent last night’s Monday Night Football game from reaching a new low in viewership.
It’s no wonder, then, teams started virtue signalling in the other direction last weekend. The Dolphins mandated that players either stand for the anthem or stay in the tunnel. The Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, said that any player who sits or kneels for the anthem will be benched—literally a week after physically taking place in a protest with his team in Arizona.
And Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the league, sent this statement to all 32 teams:
To: Chief Executives/ Club Presidents
From: Commissioner Goodell
Date: October 10, 2017
Re: Fall Meeting/National Anthem
We live in a country that can feel very divided. Sports, and especially the NFL, brings people together and lets them set aside those divisions, at least for a few hours. The current dispute over the National Anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country.
I’m very proud of our players and owners who have done the hard work over the past year to listen, understand and attempt to address the underlying issues within their communities. At our September committee meetings, we heard directly from several players about why these issues are so important to them and how we can support their work. And last week, we met with the leadership of the NFLPA and more players to advance the dialogue.
Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem. It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.
Building on many discussions with clubs and players, we have worked to develop a plan that we will review with you at next week’s League meeting. This would include such elements as an in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues, and that will help to promote positive change in our country. We want to ensure that any work at the League level is consistent with the work that each club is doing in its own community, and that we dedicate a platform that can enable these initiatives to succeed. Additionally, we will continue the unprecedented dialogue with our players.
I expect and look forward to a full and open discussion of these issues when we meet next week in New York. Everyone involved in the game needs to come together on a path forward to continue to be a force for good within our communities, protect the game, and preserve our relationship with fans throughout the country. The NFL is at its best when we ourselves are unified. In that spirit, let’s resolve that next week we will meet this challenge in a unified and positive way.
Checkmate. Trump wins. And in doing so, he empowered the same segment of his base that he managed to electrify so potently during the election season—the forgotten, largely lower middle-class, caucasian flyover state resident.
It stands to reason that Trump, the reality star, understands reality television much, much better than the NFL ever did. And it’s for this reason that Trump, despite poor approval ratings and one manufactured scandal after another, is likely to help Republicans continue to maintain a stranglehold on congress in 2018. Republican candidates would be wise to run toward him, rather than away. He continues to prove that he (or at least his campaign) understands the middle part of this country far, far better than the opposition does.