To kneel or not to kneel: The NFL-Trump Saga has just begun

After making shocking remarks towards NFL players, Donald Trump now faces his largest battle yet with the sports world.
Donald Trump speaks to his supporters during his rally in St. Louis in March of 2016. Maneater File Photo

NFL players from around the league came together Sunday, Sept. 24 as they protested during the national anthem in the face of comments made by President Donald Trump.

It all started when President Trump expressed his displeasure with the NFL at an Alabama rally on Friday, Sept. 22. President Trump told the crowd, “Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He is fired. He's fired!'”

Following his statement at the rally, the president continued to criticize the league. On Twitter, he tweeted out in two posts, "If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” Then, President Trump went on to post about how he believes a boycott from the fans would lead to change in the behavior of the players. In the tweet, the president claimed, “if NFL fans refuse to go to games...you will see change take place fast.”

The president’s comments did not go unanswered. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement in response to President Trump, defending the actions of his players. After Goodell released the statement, President Trump tweeted out his response, expressing his displeasure.

As for the NFL’s reaction, it was what many expected. On that Sunday, more than 130 total players from around the league kneeled and three teams even stayed in the locker room during the playing of the national anthem. After the games, many players and coaches used their interview time to voice their frustrations with the situation.

Now that all of that baggage has been unpacked, the next step is to dive into the future implications of this feud. As time continues to pass, and if the president continues his attack on the NFL, it will be a battle between one of the country’s two strongest forces.

One of the most intriguing developments from this story is the reaction from the NFL owners. In a recent article from The New York Daily News, eight NFL owners were identified as not only supporters of President Trump but high-dollar donors to him.

Historically, United States professional sports leagues have coexisted with government figures. In the 2016 election season, more than a combined $26.2 million were donated to the Republican and Democratic parties by owners of the four major sports leagues. Of the four major sports leagues, the owners of the NFL were highest donors and the most conservative of all team owners, but it is unsure whether or not the money translates to loyalty. For example, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a man who is a significant donor to President Trump, decided to lock arms with his entire team and kneel as a sign of unity before the national anthem on Monday Night Football on Sept. 25. This same crossroad will be met by every NFL owner in the league throughout this season if it hasn’t been met already. It will be up to the owners to decide whether to side with the president of the United States or the NFL players who generate their money.

As for the fans of the NFL, there are multiple reports and polls on the reaction, approval and disapproval of the protests. According to a survey last week called the Seton Hall Sports Poll, 84 percent of Americans surveyed believe that, above all, NFL players have the right to protest. Furthermore, a survey put out by HuffPost/YouGov found that 54 percent of respondents do not approve of President Trump’s response to the protests. However, the same poll also found that 48 percent of respondents believe that it was inappropriate for NFL players to kneel during the national anthem.

Regardless of the correctness or incorrectness of President Trump’s comments, there is no denying that he has started a fight with one of the most unstoppable businesses in the world, and the other professional sports leagues are likely to follow suit. For example, the day after President Trump’s Alabama rally, Oakland Athletics rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to kneel during the national anthem.

This narrative is sure to become a weekly installment in the 2017-18 NFL Sunday experience. In one of the most bizarre, newsworthy Sundays in NFL history, it would appear that the president’s comments only made the bond between NFL players, coaches and owners stronger.

While many people say that sports and politics should not mix, this scenario feels much different. As Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller stated in his post-game interview, President Trump’s speech is “an assault on [their] most cherished right, freedom of speech.”

There have been veterans and non-veterans that have supported NFL players’ decision to protest the national anthem. Also, as one may assume, there have been veterans and non-veterans who have not supported the NFL player’s decision to protest. Amongst all the chaos, however, the protests and non-protests have created a dialogue throughout the United States, and according to many players, including Colin Kaepernick, that is the goal.

This is the reality that the sports world is currently living in. This is a reality where ESPN keeps track of which players protest on a week-to-week basis. This is a reality where fans may ask one another if they think Player A or Player B will take a knee, rather than if Player A or Player B will have a bigger impact on the field.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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