President Trump, emboldened by the positive reaction his criticism of the NFL has drawn from his base, continues to drive the wedge between the NFL and a swath of the American public, now suggesting that the owners are complying with the players’ demands for protest out of fear.
Speaking to “Fox and Friends” on Wednesday night for an interview that aired Thursday morning, Trump once again went in on a low-political-risk, high-mileage issue: NFL players’ protests during the national anthem. Trump has seized on the issue ever since an off-the-cuff remark at a campaign rally last Friday night, and the resulting chaos has seen hundreds of players protesting, NFL owners rebuking Trump, and fans burning their jerseys in protest of the protests.
In the “Fox and Friends” interview, Trump lasered in on the NFL, this time seeking to divide players from owners. “I have so many friends that are owners. And they’re in a box,” he said. “I mean, I’ve spoken to a couple of them. They say, ‘we are in a situation where we have to do something.’ I think they’re afraid of their players, you want to know the truth, and I think it’s disgraceful. And they’ve got to be tough and they’ve got to be smart.”
Trump also claimed that the NFL should be forcing players to stand for the anthem, wondering, “Why aren’t they honoring this country by enforcing a rule that’s been in existence for a long time?”
Only problem with that line: there’s no such rule. As Pro Football Talk notes, the NFL confirmed last year that players aren’t required to stand for the anthem, only indicating that players “should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking.”
Trump’s contention that the owners are “afraid” of their players is a curious one, to put it politely. Owners of NFL teams are among the wealthiest in sports, with holdings far beyond their sports franchises. They didn’t get to where they are without being “tough” and “smart.” Players, meanwhile, are very much subject to the whims of the teams and the marketplace, their career value only lasting for a short period of time and contingent on their ability to contribute to the team in a specific context, nothing more.
NFL owners are virtually all older white men. Protesting players are young, large, often fierce-looking, and virtually all minorities. This is, in theory, still a sports section, so we’ll leave it to you to speculate from there what Trump’s trying to stoke here, telling Fox News viewers that the former is cowering in fear of the latter.
Hang in there, folks. Week 4 is almost here.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.