This is the NFL's punishment for trying to appease President Trump

Dan Wetzel

The Philadelphia Eagles won’t visit the White House Tuesday for the traditional Super Bowl champion ceremony because too few players were willing, available or interested in attending. And one thing we know about Donald Trump, crowd size matters.

“The Eagles wanted to send a smaller delegation,” Trump said in a statement.

So, instead, there will be no Eagles allowed. Trump pulled the invite.

As an alternative, the White House will throw a party draped in red, white and blue to rake the NFL over the coals as an un-American, disrespectful and pathetic organization all because Trump, deftly, if inaccurately, spun the low player attendance into one of his favorite wedge issues: standing for the national anthem.

Last month, in a moronic move destined to fail, the NFL attempted a Trump Appeasement Plan by (sort of) rewriting its national anthem policy. It didn’t actually outlaw protests during the anthem – players can just stay in the locker room.

Team owners thought the policy would give Trump enough of a “win” that they hoped he might stop beating them up.

Please. It was one of the most ludicrous crisis-management strategies ever implemented. Watching Trump pound on the NFL at every opportunity has become a sport unto itself.

“They disagree with their President because he insists they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the great people of our country,” Trump said in the statement, applying a motive to the disinterest in meeting him that isn’t actually true.

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (right) hands the Vincent Lombardi trophy to Nick Foles after the Super Bowl. (AP)
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (right) hands the Vincent Lombardi trophy to Nick Foles after the Super Bowl. (AP)

Eagles players are actually staying away for myriad reasons. To think the only objection they have with Trump is the national anthem policy is ridiculous and runs contrary to historical fact.

During the 2017 season and playoffs, not a single Eagles player knelt for the national anthem. Not one. In every single game, every single player stood. Even after Trump called NFL players who did kneel “sons of bitches,” the response by players was to stand for the anthem. They even linked arms with police officers and military personnel who had been invited to the game.

To repeat: There were no anthem protests by the Eagles, no matter what Trump or the state-run media is peddling.

“No one refused to go simply because Trump ‘insists’ folks stand for the anthem,” former Philly wide receiver Torrey Smith tweeted.

Whatever. Facts don’t matter, and Trump knows that. This is “Fox & Friends” porn.

Trump doesn’t have a patriotic bone spur in his body – if he did, he wouldn’t have spent his time belittling prisoners of war, gold-star families, the FBI, federal judges and intelligence agents who protect the country from attacks.

He is, however, an undeniable master of waging culture wars to rile up his base. This is a popular issue for him to fight on, so he fights on it every time he can. It’s like a pop station playing the hits. If his voters shifted sentiment and started believing the players should have a right to kneel, Trump would quickly shift and champion that side.

Only the NFL could have been too dumb not to realize all of this when it decided to give him all the ammo he needed to blast it.

“Tell everybody, you can’t win this one,” Trump told Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, when Trump was lobbying the league to do what he wanted. “This one lifts me.”

Trump was right about that. It lifts him. A lot of Americans actually are patriotic and they don’t like protests during the anthem. Others don’t see the logic in allowing workers to act out politically while on the job – at most places you can’t. Still, others just love hearing someone call out highly paid (and mostly African-American) professional athletes for supposedly being ungrateful and un-American. That last segment is unfortunate, but it no doubt exists.

Why the NFL thought Trump would ever stop using this to his advantage will be taught in the Roger Goodell School of Public Relations Disasters for years to come.

The league’s new anthem policy makes no sense. It didn’t stop protests – players can just stay in the locker room. Yet it didn’t show respect to protesters by allowing the sideline kneeling. As sure as many oppose the kneeling, there are also many Americans who aren’t threatened by it or believe that peaceful protesting is the most American of acts.

Mostly, though, the NFL didn’t ignore Trump. The best way to get him to go away is to bore him. It wasn’t like this was still a hot-button issue. As few as eight players took a knee in Week 2 of last season before Trump stumbled into a political rally applause line. Even after he made it a big issue again (Colin Kaepernick ignited it originally back in 2016), the fury eventually died down by season’s end. Not a single NFL player, including the Eagles, took a knee during the playoffs or the Super Bowl.

Talk of mass TV revolts and fan protests were overblown.

President Donald Trump will instead hold a ceremony with the U.S. Marine Band and the U.S. Army Chorus. (AP)
President Donald Trump will instead hold a ceremony with the U.S. Marine Band and the U.S. Army Chorus. (AP)

Few people were still discussing the subject until the NFL brought it back into the news last month by concocting a plan that appealed to no one except those who want to divide and conquer.

The league should have either mandated all players stand for the anthem – like the NBA does – or just done nothing and not given Trump oxygen.

Instead, it gave him attention, power and an open invitation to keep whacking the piñata of Goodell leadership.

On Tuesday, Trump will, in lieu of an Eagles visit, bring in the U.S. Marine Band and the U.S. Army Chorus to “honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes that fight to protect it and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem.”

So, there will be an official White House-sponsored America vs. the anti-American NFL rally. The television footage of that should be priceless. All that’s missing is a march through Kim Il-sung Square, with Dear Leader watching from above.

Great work, NFL. Really great, great work.

The league is so dumb and spineless it deserves every last bit of this humiliation. And the next one. And the next one. And the …

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