I realize that this article is not particularly timely but I've been busy at work. I found a little time so I wanted to share some thoughts about this.
The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII. It was a very good game, as a football fan I thoroughly enjoyed it, plus I have a personal connection to the Eagles. I am a native Pennsylvanian, born in the town of Lansdale. It is located right outside of Philadelphia. My father was a native of Philadelphia and was a huge fan of the team (he also rooted for the Washington Redskins because he lived there at one time). Philadelphia fans suffered through lost opportunities in the past so this particular championship was a sweet one, the first since 1960.
I never gave much thought to any visit to the White House. I thought it likely that some players would go, some wouldn't. It's the same in any given year. Personally I think I would go, I mean, come on. It's the White House. How often do you get a chance to visit? This has nothing with the current president.
It's happened in the past. Some players don't go because of scheduling conflicts or they disagree with the current president. I know it happened during Obama's presidency, maybe there were others but I don't remember. I don't really care, it makes no difference to me one way or another. I respect a person's decision not to go because they have the right to refuse.
But things are no longer normal. Starting back in the Fall of 2016 Colin Kaepernick decided to bring attention to racial injustice by not standing during the National Anthem. First he stayed seated on the bench but after discussing the matter with Nate Boyer, a former NFL player and Green Beret veteran, Kaepernick decided to kneel. This touched off controversy with other players soon adopting this stance as a way of showing solidarity. Some knelt, others raised their fists or stayed in the locker room. The actions became polarizing with many fans being outspoken of either support or opposition. Ratings dropped and the situation became worse when Trump decided to politicize the issue. In September of 2017 Trump brought the subject up at a rally in Alabama, saying that owners should "get that son of a bitch off the field" and saying that owners should fire players that "disrespect the flag." Naturally this generated a backlash by players and even owners.
The odd thing is that as far as anyone can tell no Eagle actually knelt on the field. Fox News erroneously showed pictures of Eagles kneeling and were forced to clarify these pictures were of players praying and not protesting. Several Eagles, notably Chris Long and Malcolm Jenkins expressed their opposition to Trump but did not kneel.
In May of 2018 the NFL owners enacted a new policy requiring that players show respect by standing during the Anthem. I watch and listen to sports programming, most of those commentators feel this is the league caving into Trump but in the end this was a business decision to stop further erosion of the TV ratings. I essentially agree with this, the NFL is a business and they need revenue to run. Losing money benefits no one. The policy gives an out to players, those who choose to can stay in the locker room during the Anthem. This doesn't really solve the problem, there will be considerable interest in those players who stay in the locker room. I wonder how long this interest lasts, I suspect after a few weeks the interest will drain away. The owners did pony up 89 million dollars for charities and causes the players support.
This apparently failed to satisfy Trump. Sensing an opportunity, he showed his appreciation for the new policy but stated that players shouldn't be allowed to stay in the locker room. In essence he wants the league to force the players to stand at attention.
This brings us back to the Eagles. A small delegation from the team planned to attend the celebration of the team's victory but Trump cancelled the meeting this past Monday, June the 4th. Most of the players declined to go but a small contingent including the head coach planned to go. Players did plan on going to Washington D. C. to do community work.
Trump's statement mentioned that the players disagreed with their president because he insists that they proudly stand for the national Anthem even though clearly no Eagle kneeled. There was a celebration of sorts, I have no idea how many people showed up or what happened during the event.
So, why all the hubub?
I suspect there are several reasons.
1) This plays well to his base. It's a time honored tradition of politicians to wave the flag around while kissing babies and eating apple pie. In Trump's case he magnifies this this by being as angry and divisive as he can. It is a very effective trick to divert attention away from the core issue.
2) This is a subset of 1 but it shows his dominance of the situation. I have no idea if Trump is this hyper-patriotic but by showing everyone who is boss it gives the impression he is "getting things done" while putting " spoiled athletes" in their proper place.
3) Personal animosity towards the NFL, Trump lost to the NFL when they refused to allow him to buy the Buffalo Bills and when the USFL folded. He now controls the narrative by being president, no one can ignore him.
A few final thoughts on this:
Forcing someone to pay homage to a symbol is not patriotic, it's something totalitarian governments do. That being said I agree that the NFL has the right to dictate how it's players act in their place of employment.
If NFL players are forced to stand at attention then so should fans at games. The owner of the 49's stated he would close concessions during the National Anthem. I agree with him, it's disrespectful to be buying stuff or chugging beer and snogging on a chili dog. Stand your ass up, put your phone away and put down the heart attack in a bun. I also think bathrooms should be locked, pissing or taking a shit during the Anthem is disrespectful. Stand in the damn hallway with your hand over your heart, you can hold it for a couple of minutes to show respect for the men and women who died for this country.
That's all, God bless America.