Roger Goodell made a federal case of deflategate but doesn't defend NFL being attacked by the president?

Dan WetzelColumnist
Yahoo Sports

Donald Trump rightly noted Tuesday the NFL’s new anthem policy really isn’t any different than its old policy. The latter allowed players to protest on the sideline by taking a knee. The former requires them to stay in the locker room during the pregame anthem, lest they be fined.

“Staying in the Locker Room [sic] for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling,” Trump tweeted.

The disrespectful part is in the eye of each person. Some believe it is. Some believe protesting is the most American of acts.

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Trump is correct, however, that if you think kneeling is disrespectful (or not) then you’ll find staying in the locker room disrespectful (or not). It’s essentially the same thing. It’s why the NFL completely blew it by adopting such a policy last month.

It’s part of a campaign of incompetence and cowardice that Trump keeps exploiting to perfection. This is a public relations disaster for the league that shows no signs of abating.

Consider this, on Tuesday the President of the United States, surrounded by a military band and choir, held a pro-America, anti-NFL ceremony at the White House because he, a man who overcame bone spurs to truly love the military (especially the “people who weren’t captured” in combat), personally determined the Philadelphia Eagles to be insufficiently patriotic because they don’t believe in standing for the national anthem even though they all stood for the national anthem before every single game last season.

This would’ve once been considered a scene out of a totalitarian regime. These days, it’s a Tuesday afternoon in America.

A guest holds up the NFL jersey of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz at U.S. President Donald Trump’s “celebration of America” event. (REUTERS)
A guest holds up the NFL jersey of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz at U.S. President Donald Trump’s “celebration of America” event. (REUTERS)

And the NFL’s response to this broadside attack on it and its employees was … silence … cowardice … feeble pitifulness.

Just wait until the next Trumpian act. A military parade on Super Bowl Sunday? A presidential declaration that football is anti-American? Who knows.

You can expect Trump to continue beating this drum any and every time he wants. NFL owners are terrified of him. They have been bullied by him. They’ll let him say and do anything he wants to them.

A group that opposed Trump ever gaining ownership of a team has granted him ownership of the space inside their collective heads.

Consider this bit of manufactured absurdity. Too few Eagles players were willing, interested or available to attend the traditional Super Bowl champion White House ceremony. Trump is an undeniably polarizing and unpopular president, even more than most presidents. It happens.

So Trump uninvited the team, which is also his right. Why allow yourself to be humiliated by sparse attendance? He instead held a brief patriotism event.

The problem is he blamed everything on player opposition to his stance against protests during the pregame anthem. That was a lie though, since every Eagles player stood before every game. Not that it matters. It was a deft political maneuver by a deft politician. Trump is well aware that facts are nebulous these days and is only trying to appeal to his base anyway.

So those same players that actually stood for the anthem are being attacked and blamed for not standing for the anthem.

Fox News even ran footage of Eagles players kneeling, except they weren’t kneeling during the anthem but instead participating in a pregame prayer. It’s since apologized in a statement, but there’s a lot of viewers who saw it on near constant loop for a news cycle or two.

“Propaganda,” said Philly tight end Zach Ertz, one of the praying (not kneeling) players in the videos.

It really shouldn’t be Ertz or any of his teammates who need to defend themselves here. It should be the Eagles organization itself. It should be the NFL. It should Roger Goodell going on camera to hammer Fox News for the video and blasting Trump for lying about the players and their motives.

Goodell made a federal case out of the inflation level of footballs but he doesn’t care if his players are being attacked by the president and his favorite network for praying before a game? That gets … crickets?

The President against some random players, who he has already effectively categorized as ungrateful and un-American – even though they, we’ll keep repeating, never actually knelt for the anthem – isn’t a fair fight.

The full weight and power of the NFL and its 30-plus owners, condemning attacks on the players and the league, repeating the facts and mocking Trump for lying, might be. At least it would be an effort.

The NFL’s logo is a shield, yet where’s Jerry Jones, where’s Bob McNair, where’s Robert Kraft to wield it in an effort to protect? Where’s Jeffrey Lurie?

Trump is even blaming the players for the stay-in-the-locker-room-policy even though they weren’t consulted on it, didn’t write it and didn’t vote on it. The owners concocted this ludicrous compromise and then implemented it. Since no games have yet been played under the policy, no player has violated it.

Doesn’t matter. Trump is torching them anyway.

And their bosses are so scared of Trump calling them out by name in a tweet they allow it.

Zach Ertz kneels in prayer prior to a game in 2016. (Getty)
Zach Ertz kneels in prayer prior to a game in 2016. (Getty)

Trump is a politician and like all politicians they are going to beat a popular, hot button issue into the ground. He lives for this stuff. His presidency is an ongoing culture war. You can hardly even blame him for doing it. This is how he got elected. Trump is going to Trump.

The NFL, with its vast resources and highly paid commissioner, is supposed to be smart enough to know this and avoid it. If nothing else it should grow the spine necessary to fight for its employees, if not its own reputation.

Come on Roger, stand up and throw a punch.

The NFL needed to do one of two things on the anthem. It needed to require all players to stand for the anthem under the argument that while you are at work you follow the rules. That’s the system with most employers, including the NBA (and, in full disclosure, I, personally, prefer).

Or it should have ignored Trump and stuck with what it had, brushing him off as unimportant. Any impact on the NFL’s bottom line from boycotting fans was minimal to begin with and, in lieu of the legalization of sports wagering, destined to be nothing but a blip in a coming revenue boom. The league was well positioned to not react.

Instead it made mistake after mistake, striking the match that inflamed the situation again (and again and again) and then cravenly clamming up as everything burned and the players got blamed for things they didn’t do, didn’t believe and never said.

You can expect this to continue. Rinse. Repeat.

Having a president and his media wing demonize players who always stood for the anthem (but did kneel for prayer) to score cheap political points is dishonest and disappointing.

Having NFL owners and the league commissioner enabling it via scared silence might be worse.

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