On Sunday morning, President Trump took to Twitter to continue hammering a hot-button topic that has sent the sports world, the media, and the internet into a frenzy.
“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast,” he wrote. “Fire or suspend!”
The remarks were the latest in a weekend-long onslaught against the NFL anthem protesters – a subject Trump first addressed at a Huntsville, Alabama rally on Friday night.
“NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN,” he continued on Sunday. “Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.”
With his comments, Trump has jumped headlong into a contentious culture war that has been heating up since Colin Kaepernick first knelt for the anthem last season. Since then, conservatives, patriots, military vets, police, and others have been in raucous debate with Black Lives Matter organizers, NFL players, social justice warriors, and mainstream media liberals over whether or not these protests constitute an acceptable stance against police violence. Some say it’s a matter of free speech, others say the NFL has no business allowing these protests to take place. And without question, Trump is right when he says the football league’s bottom line is suffering as a result of the controversy.
At the Alabama rally, Trump posed a question to his supporters – most of whom cheered loudly in response: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say – ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now! He’s fired!'”
And we have to admit, it would be a beautiful moment.
Unfortunately – if not predictably – Trump’s remarks seem to have had the opposite effect. As of noon on Sunday, it was already clear that more players – including dozens of Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars footballers – were going to kneel for the anthem than ever before. Trump inadvertently gave them a somewhat defensible reason to kneel – now they can feel like they’re defending free speech rather than participating in a misguided and racist movement against the U.S. This is, after all, the president telling them what to do.
But this will only put a wider gulf between the players and the fans, many of whom are rightfully disgusted by the anthem protests. The president isn’t the flag, and kneeling for the anthem is not disrespecting Donald Trump – it’s disrespecting the entire country. And that’s not lost on millions of fans, many of whom have already begun to tune out of the sport altogether.