You knew this was coming: President Donald Trump, whose fiery comments on NFL protesters last year inflamed his populist base, spoke with satisfaction Thursday morning about new rules that sharply restrict pregame protests. Speaking to Fox & Friends’ Brian Kilmeade, Trump expressed approval that NFL owners “did the right thing” by requiring players on the field to stand.
“I don’t think people should be staying in the locker rooms, but still I think it’s good,” he said. “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem.”
Commentary: “Throw the ungrateful protesters out of the country” is a red-meat take that’ll play well with some in the president’s base, but it’s one that doesn’t even stand up to an elementary-school-level understanding of American freedoms. Granted, the president has a habit of cranking every opinion up to 11, but this one does nothing but pour rocket fuel on the protest controversy’s smoldering fire. (A reminder, yet again: the protests were about social and racial equality before they got hijacked and turned into a referendum on Who Loves America The Most.)
Forcing people to respect a flag isn’t generally an American value, and threatening, however absurdly, to throw someone out of the country for voicing their opinion — yes, even while on the job — is un-American on its face. The president’s words inflamed the protest controversy last season, and this time around, they’re likely to have the same effect.
The NFL crafted this new policy in part to appease Trump and avoid any critical tweets from the White House. But if the NFL expected the president to be gracious in victory and move on to other topics, the league was sadly mistaken.
Instead, the league has managed to get its entire workforce mocked and disrespected in front of the country, with no sign that the criticism from the presidential bully pulpit will stop anytime soon. That’s not going to play well in the locker rooms of the league, and not among a sizable contingent of the stands, either.
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