Football season is upon us. American football, that is. The fantasy football folks are busy ranking their player choices and gnashing their teeth. ESPN and network sports analysts are in seventh heaven. Throw in a few surprises (the Washington Redskins trouncing the Oakland Raiders on Sunday evening, for instance), and you’ve got something talk about. It’s the weekend, time to get lost in a bit of sports drama.
That is, until the Orange One sticks his nose into the NFL National Anthem debate. I remember when no one paid attention to the national anthem unless, 1) the singer(s) forgot the words; 2) the singer was exceptionally bad (Rosanne Barr) or 3) the singer was exceptionally good (Whitney Houston). The camera passed over the players as they chomped at the proverbial bit, shifting their weight like racehorses in the starting gate. Clearly they were not thinking about the national anthem at all. They were thinking about the game. Now, like everything else in this country, the national anthem has become political theater: will the team sit, stand, kneel, link arms, do the cancan, what?
Trump seems to feel that football players are basically a cossetted bunch, not that he has much room to talk on that score. They are, but they have to produce or they’re out. It’s brutal, and can be life threatening. Look at the outrageously talented former New England Patriot, Aaron Hernandez’s autopsy results; turns out his brain was riddled with crippling CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which may explain some of his behavior these last years. He was 27 years old when he committed suicide. The players command hefty salaries, or some of them do; however, nothing is guaranteed and many end up in poverty after their short careers end.
The NFL carefully nourishes its patriotic, community focused image and professional football players are strongly encouraged to engage in community service. This is carefully guided by the NFL, as is everything in professional football. This gives the NFL good publicity; see how we send our players out into the community? Aren’t they remarkable? We care about our community and our fans! That is until the guy becomes inconvenient and/or stops producing. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is the current personification of what happens if you step outside the NFL’s narrow path. Likewise, former quarterback Tim Tebow is the personification of a failed NFL athlete, although I’ll bet he could pound most of us into the ground, if he so chose. That’s how brutal it is.
The kneeling protests were starting to disappear. Most of the sportscasters and analysts no longer bothered to talk about the issue. That was last season; old news. Then the Orange One opens his fat mouth and it’s back. Only now everyone feels put upon, black, white, brown, whatever. The players, bashed by the President for no good reason, are banding together, supporting each other in ways they didn’t before.
Some have posited that perhaps Mr. Trump is attempting to distract the press, and by inference the American public, with this new nonsensical spew. Perhaps he is nervous about some other problem or failure, say, the third implosion of healthcare legislation, a tax reform bill that allows the wealthy to pay no tax at all, or a shooting war with North Korea; perhaps the Mueller investigation has found a smoking gun. I’d like to think so but, frankly, I don’t think Mr. Trump’s that smart. It’s yet another indication how badly our national leadership, Republican, Democrat and Independent, has failed us. This sort of mental and spiritual vacuum at the top is insulting. We wouldn’t put up with it in industry, we wouldn’t put up with it in our local governments, at town hall or on the school board. Why are we putting up with it now?