A week ago today, the nation (well, at least the media) was riveted by the mostly faux drama of how each NFL player/team would handle the issue of protests during the playing of the national anthem. This occurred after President Donald Trump had single-handedly reawakened a nearly dormant controversy.
In the ensuing week, it has become evident that nearly everyone involved in this silly war has lost, at least a little bit. It is also very difficult to find any legitimate winners, expect perhaps a news media which is always thirsty for some easy and provocative content to flow effortlessly into their cup.
I wrote before last Sunday’s games that Trump’s attacks on the NFL were only part of some much larger issues which threaten the long-term viability of the league and the sport itself. I then went on television to soundly denounce both Trump and Colin Kaepernick as the two central figures in what I view as a mostly fraudulent dispute.
There are at least two elements of this fiasco which, in my view, have been dramatically missed by nearly everyone. One is that Trump’s motivations here are hardly pristine. After all, he is a former owner in the long-folded USFL, which was crushed by the NFL.
Trump is a person who famously holds a grudge, and he is clearly bitter about knowing he lacks the class (or the money) to ever be considered for entry into the super exclusive club of NFL owners. It is obvious that he is trying to leverage his cult-like base (a demographic which is vital to the NFL) to damage the league out of his own vendetta, and he is using phony patriotism as a shield to hide the truth from his gullible followers.
The second element being missed is that the overblown demonstration on the part of a small percentage of the players makes no logical sense. The stated purpose is to protest alleged mistreatment of black men by local police. But there is no “United States” police force, so protesting during the anthem, which is inherently “national,” and has no connection at all to police work, seems extremely misplaced.
In contrast, when a few of the then St. Louis Rams came out in 2015 during introductions and paid homage to the now debunked “Hands up, Don’t shoot!” pose, I vehemently disagreed with the gesture, but at least there was some logic to it. This version has none.
In short, everyone has mishandled this situation. It seems surprising these days whenever people actually get what they deserve, but this silly saga may be a circumstance which defies that gravitational pull of injustice, because almost everyone involved is paying a price for their ridiculousness.
At least two major polls have Trump’s approval rating taking a significant drop this week (given the static nature of his already historically low numbers, 3-4 points in a week is rather significant). One of them indicated that, by an almost 2-1 margin, Americans feel, correctly, that the president should have stayed out of this topic entirely.
It is obvious that Trump knows that this was not a winner for him personally because he is, to use a football metaphor, trying hard to move the goalposts so that he can soothe his own ego by claiming some sort of victory and then finally move on. Hilariously, it seems that he is now trying to create the impression that if/when the players all stand for the national anthem that this will be because of his heroic work and that our country will be much better off because of it.
The reality is that before Trump got bored during that Alabama rally and decided to create havoc for his own amusement/revenge, almost all of the players were already standing, and the anthem protests were running out of steam. Trump effectively took a fire that was under control and dying out and purposely reignited it. Now this arsonist wants to take credit as a firefighter once the fire naturally returns to its previous state. Amazingly, his cult will totally buy this scam.
As for the players and the league, they have also been damaged here. For instance, Kaepernick, who was already unemployed (in my view because he is no longer an effective quarterback), seems even less likely now to get another shot in the NFL thanks to this massive flare up.
At least one team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, appears to have created some internal divisions because of a misunderstanding of how the team planned to handle the anthem. NBC’s announcers on “Sunday Night Football” openly wondered whether the Oakland Raiders lost that game because of their extreme focus on the pre-game protest.
The league itself also seems to have suffered in some small, but possibly significant ways. While ratings for “Monday Night Football” were up, many of the Sunday games were down, though that may simply be due to many other factors. There are some indications that ticket sales are down and that the league’s own “approval” rating has also taken a hit.
As big a deal as this whole thing seemed to be this week, my sense is that after a few weeks this will mostly fade away again. By the time the Super Bowl rolls around, we will probably mostly forget that it ever even happened. That is, until we are reminded because at least a couple of players won’t be able to resist the massive attention they will get for taking a knee during the most-watched national anthem of the year.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at [email protected].
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.