As the NFL prepares to launch its 101st season, the 45th President, his supporters, and his family members will be coming after the league. So will the NFL defend itself, and its players, as the tweets begin on Thursday night, when Texans and Chiefs players (and Texans coach Bill O’Brien) kneel during the national anthem in peaceful protest of systemic racism and police brutality?
Peter King recently asked Commissioner Roger Goodell about the looming intersection of presidential politics and pro football, saying to Goodell, “You know the president is going to hit you with a two-by-four.”
Said Goodell in response: “With all due respect, I don’t know those things. . . . I guess you know these things. You’re going into hypotheticals, you know, maybe it will, maybe it won’t. I think we said we’re going to support our players. This is a peaceful protest and we’re going to support them if they choose to do that.”
It’s not a hypothetical. It’s happened before, and it will continue to happen. Indeed, it flared up on Monday, when one of the president’s sons declared that “[f]ootball is officially dead — so much for ‘America’s sport.’ Goodbye NFL. . . . I’m gone.” That comment came merely in response to last week’s story that Cowboys players have received a “green light” to protest during the national anthem, without any protests actually happening.
What happens when the protests occur this weekend on a widespread basis? What happens when the President and those who support him see names like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake prominently displayed on rear helmet bumpers? What happens when they see the anti-racism messages printed at the back of each end zone?
What happens if/when the next video emerges of police brutality against an unarmed Black man or woman and NFL players launch an NBA-style wildcat strike?
Maybe the Commissioner is playing his cards close to the vest. Hopefully, he is. The NFL can’t simply wander into this crowded minefield without a plan for handling the inevitable explosions.
Frankly, the plan needs to be to fight back. Supporting the players means more than simply saying, “We support the players.” Supporting the players means standing up to anyone and everyone who will try to bully or attack them.
At a time when some owners are trying to thread the needle regarding support for player protests while also hoping that they choose to stand for the anthem, the more awkward needle to be threaded with a big, fat camel relates to the broader notion of having their players’ backs while simultaneously cramming money into the President’s front pockets. The latest Trump (son) tweet reconfirms that support for players and support for the President cannot be reconciled.
If the NFL once again stands silent in the fact of a torrent of tweets and other attacks, the disconnect will become even more glaring.