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Volume 24 No. 117

Leagues and Governing Bodies

The NFL league office came out swinging at President Trump this morning following his comments over the weekend. Taking at a jab at the "Access Hollywood" tape that came out last year, NFL Exec VP/Communications Joe Lockhart said on a conference call, "Looking at yesterday, everyone should know, including the president, that this is what real locker room talk is.” Lockhart also blasted Trump for saying the NFL had gone soft for focusing on player safety. He said, "The president said something Friday night and in some tweets about wanting less emphasis on safety in the game. We fundamentally could not disagree more. These remarks represent someone who is out of touch and does a really great disservice by making them. It is an outdated and wrongheaded position to say that we shouldn’t be focused on safety." Lockhart said the next step for the NFL and player protests is a series of community initiatives that will be launched next month targeted at inequality. He stressed the league has been working on the events since last year and they were not in response to Trump. Asked if there had been any contact between the NFL and White House, Lockhart replied, “The president has chosen his form of dialogue, which is Twitter and statements that I am not sure a sensible review of the facts would support. If the president wants to engage in something positive, productive and constructive, he knows our number,” he added. Lockhart also said the league has heard no concerns expressed from business sponsors (Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer).

LATEST TRUMP TWEETS: Trump this morning continued his fight on Twitter against the NFL, writing, "The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this! ... Many people booed the players who kneeled yesterday (which was a small percentage of total). These are fans who demand respect for our Flag!" (, 9/25). The comments come after several White House officials addressed the topic on the Sunday morning news shows. White House Dir of Legislative Affairs Marc Short appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and said in the NFL, players who “take a knee over a flag that many of our generations preceding us have died to protect the freedoms there, they somehow get honored as martyrs by the media” (NEWSDAY, 9/25). Short also appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and said, “The president is standing with the vast majority of Americans who believe that our flag should be respected. ... The president’s saying that, yes, players have a First Amendment right. But NFL owners also have a right. And that right is that these players represent their teams. And if the owners want to get rid of them, they should be allowed to get rid of them” ("Meet The Press," NBC, 9/24). Meanwhile, the WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Beaton & Futterman note Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin yesterday “defended the president’s position on the protests” on ABC's "This Week." Mnuchin said, “The NFL has all different types of rules. You can’t have stickers on your helmet. You have to have your jerseys tucked in. I think what the president is saying is that the owners should have a rule that players should have to stand and respect for the national anthem. They can do free speech on their own time” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/25).

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he was "proud" of the way the league and players reacted this weekend to President Trump's comments, according to Peter King of THE MMQB. Goodell last night said, "I spent a lot of time listening to our players and coaches and owners over the past two days. They really care about our league. I just think we need more understanding. I was trying to find out with the players and coaches, ‘How are you feeling? What’s going on in your locker rooms?’ They were trying to figure out ways to respond.” He said league needs to remain "focused on what the NFL is doing -- staying true to our values, unifying people and continuing an effort to understand and help improve our communities." Goodell: "People love coming together around football. We saw nothing but exciting football today. I think the public loves our game and recognizes the efforts we’re making with it.” He said he was not bothered by the possibility Trump was "on a crusade" against the league. He said, "We live in an imperfect society. A public discourse makes us strong." King notes Goodell did not say "how he personally felt when he first heard the Trump remarks early Saturday." However, a source said Goodell had “profound disappointment” (, 9/25).

TAKING THE NEXT STEP: THE MMQB's King wonders where the league goes "from here." The players "may continue to poke the bear," and NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith "could too." Smith's "defiant tone" in a statement this weekend "made it clear the players wouldn’t back down to Trump." However, it is "unlikely you’ll see Goodell engage much with Trump’s warring words." King, on Trump: "I wouldn't expect him to go quietly into the Washington night" (, 9/25). USA TODAY's Christine Brennan writes Goodell and Smith "both did what so many in Washington still seem unwilling to do." They "stood up to Trump, calling him out Saturday morning for what can only be described as a pathetic lack of leadership." Their "forceful answers stood in stark contrast to Trump’s blistering attack on those NFL players" (USA TODAY, 9/25). In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz wrote Goodell "hasn't had the best of relationships with players," so this was a "great way for him to try to score some points, even if it seems orchestrated" (, 9/23). Also in Atlanta, Mark Bradley wrote Goodell's response to Trump "sounded Rushmore-ready" (, 9/23). CBS' Boomer Esiason said, "I never thought I would ever see what I'm seeing today. What I'm seeing today is a unity, as you use the word 'united,' a unity between the owners and the players like I've never seen before. So the conversation is started, the conversation is going" ("The NFL Today," CBS, 9/24). In DC, Sally Jenkins wrote Goodell and others "are getting it right, striking the perfect calm but resistant tone in response" to Trump. The NFL's response "adhered to civility." Rather than take Trump "head on," the league "chose simply to outclass him" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/24).

TAGLIABUE SPEAKS OUT: Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was a guest of Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson for yesterday's game in Charlotte against the Saints. In meeting the media before the game, Tagliabue was asked about Trump’s comments. He prefaced his remarks by stressing he is a private citizen and does not speak for the NFL. Tagliabue: “I know a little bit about NFL players and from my perspective, there are engaged in many, many positive things all across America, all the time, week in and week out.” He added, “For me, to single out any particular group of players, and to call them SOBs, to me, that’s insulting and disgraceful. I think that the players deserve credit, they should get credit for what they do, and when it comes to speech, they are entitled to speak, we are entitled to listen, we are entitled to agree or disagree for that matter. But we are not entitled to shut anyone’s speech down.” He went on the say, “NFL players are mature, they are thoughtful and they are active in the community. … We should be proud of them for being active” (THE DAILY).

CONTRARY TO REPORTS...:'s Adam Schefter reported the NFLPA yesterday denied that Goodell and Smith "discussed how to handle" Trump's statements about player protests. A source said that Goodell and Smith "spent part of Saturday discussing how to best respond to the president's position that players who protest during the anthem should be fired." But yesterday afternoon, the NFLPA "issued a statement, saying the two men had not spoken." The same NFL source also said that Goodell "spoke to players" such as Eagles CB Malcolm Jenkins, a "leader among players seeking change through social activism" (, 9/24).

There was an "unusual, sweeping wave of protest and defiance on the sidelines" during the national anthem before NFL games yesterday following comments and tweets by President Trump regarding player protest, according to a front-page piece by Ken Belson of the N.Y. TIMES. What had been a "modest round of anthem demonstrations this season led by a handful of African-American players mushroomed and morphed into a nationwide," diverse rebuke to Trump, with "even some of his staunchest supporters in the NFL, including several owners, joining in or condemning" Trump for divisiveness. The acts of defiance "received a far more mixed reception from fans, both in the stadiums and on social media." As the sideline demonstrations unfolded, Trump wrote on Twitter: “Great solidarity for our national anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!” Trump later told reporters his comments had “nothing to do with race or anything else -- this has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/25). THE MMQB's Peter King noted in 16 games last week, "fewer than 10 players, total, either sat or raised a fist during anthems across the league." Then Trump's Alabama speech "happened, and players -- white and black -- and owners and union officials and the commissioner, got angry." In a week, five or eight protesters "became in excess of 250." Three "full teams" -- the Steelers (other than Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva), Seahawks and Titans -- "boycotted the anthem Sunday, and other groups either knelt or sat" (, 9/25). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Beaton & Futterman note the number of protests "surged far beyond anything the NFL has seen before" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/25).

SENDING A POWERFUL MESSAGE:'s Jenny Vrentas wrote it was a "powerful message sent by the NFL, the country’s most popular sports league, standing up together quietly and peacefully after being disrespected by the president." It will be "remembered as an unprecedented display of unity in the NFL, between white players and black, between conference rivals, in all corners of the country, in defense of their rights as American citizens." And on the "opposite side, is the leader of the free world" (, 9/24). CBS' DeMarco Morgan said, "It seems as if the president's words only reignited the protest rather than silence them" ("CBS This Morning," 9/25). NBC's Al Michaels: "The one thing I come away with today after watching these games, it's galvanized the league, players, coaches, owners. Everybody has inadvertently created a new level of unity" ("Football Night In America," NBC, 9/24). NBC's Mike Tirico: "It was a landmark day for the place of sports in our society, and if there is a takeaway from today, it was the league's constituencies, often at odds, spoken largely with one voice. Now, we'll wait to see where it all will lead" ("SNF," NBC, 9/24).

MORE THAN SPORTS:  In L.A., Farmer & King in a front-page piece note the players had "little to lose by this display, especially since they had the support of most of their owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell, who called the president’s words 'divisive'" (L.A. TIMES, 9/25). In Greensboro, Ed Hardin writes this day "wasn’t really about football." This was a "national day of protest, a day of civil disobedience by the very men Trump put down" during his speech. It was a "message from the NFL to the president that his remarks were wrong and wrong-headed" (Greensboro NEWS & RECORD, 9/25). In Toronto, Bruce Arthur in a front-page piece writes the sports world yesterday "found itself more enmeshed with politics and protest than at any point in modern history" (TORONTO STAR, 9/25). NBC's Matt Lauer said yesterday was a "massive show of support" in the NFL. NBC's Savannah Guthrie: "Sometimes we start this show with sport, sometimes with politics, rarely both together. That's what we have now" ("Today," NBC, 9/25).

NFL players protested in numbers far beyond anything the league has seen before
CREATED A MONSTER? In N.Y., Alexander Burns in a front-page piece notes it is "not yet clear whether most Americans are likely to sympathize" with Trump, and his "caustic scolding of the athletes, overwhelmingly black, who engage in certain forms of dissent, or with players who have pushed back" against Trump and called his criticism inappropriate and demeaning. But by savaging individual athletes Trump "created a larger moment of choosing sides that brought sports uncomfortably and unavoidably into the nation’s political divide" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/25). In S.F., Joe Garofoli in a front-page piece writes Trump's decision to "pick a racially charged fight with the world of pro football ... carries a lot more political risk than past Twitter wars with the media and Hollywood figures his supporters detest." Some NFL players are wealthy, but they "aren’t the 'elites' Trump likes to disparage." The great unknown in this fight is "how the vast swath of Americans who are NFL fans will react to having their typically apolitical Sundays interrupted by politics on this scale" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 9/25). In West Palm Beach, Jason Lieser wrote there is "nothing unpatriotic about the players' civil protest." It is the "most American thing they could have done, and it's misdirection to attempt to cast it as anti-military or anti-flag." At first glance, it "looks like" Trump's comments "backfired, but maybe he wanted this" (, 9/24). The GLOBE & MAIL's Cathal Kelly wrote now "fully emboldened," Trump has "turned his rhetorical cannons on the last thing that bound Americans of all political stripes: sports." And you can "already see everyone rethinking which team they're on" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/25).

WHAT ARE WE FIGHTING FOR? In New Jersey, Tara Sullivan writes what we need more of now is "fighting over actual beliefs rather than just looking for a fight." If somehow the NFL "helps get us there, if the most popular American sport of all time can somehow show the way through one of the most divisive eras of all time, will it ultimately be worth the rancor, the anger, the hyperbole, the pain, the hurt, the distraction from the games themselves?" Sullivan: "The opinion here is yes. The hope here is yes, too" (Bergen RECORD, 9/25). In Pittsburgh, Kevin Gorman wrote players -- "especially black players -- had to decide whether to be bullied by Trump or to use their platform to raise awareness for their constitutional right to free speech" (, 9/24). In Nashville, Joe Rexrode writes the NFL was "right to rebuke Trump." Rexrode: "I don’t know where it goes from here, but those comments will get old and the need for productive dialogue ... will persist." Rexrode notes he is "hearing a lot of 'millionaire crybabies' stuff out there." Rexrode: "I’d much rather see pro athletes use their platforms to get involved and advocate for the disenfranchised than ignore the real world" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 9/25).

THE REAL WINNER:'s Ian O'Connor wrote yesterday was Colin Kaepernick's "defining moment." Trump "assailed the basic rights of unionized NFL workers, and he ended up unifying the very sport he's trying to tear down." In the end, he "made a big winner out of his least favorite athlete," as Kaepernick "didn't need to be on the field to have his day in the sun" (, 9/24). THE MMQB's King writes the way owners could "most forcefully illustrate their solidarity with the players would be for one of them to sign" Kaepernick this week (, 9/25). YAHOO SPORTS' Charles Robinson wrote under the header, "Is There Climate Change For Kaepernick's Return After NFL's Clapback At Trump?" Kaepernick -- Trump’s "original 'son of a bitch' -- is still fired." And it is "worth wondering if the league’s overt embrace of unity and awareness might reverse that" (, 9/24).

President Trump's comments over the weekend "managed to unite" NFL players and owners in "indignation and condemnation of his view that pro football players forfeit their freedom of speech protection once they slip on a helmet," according to Christopher Gasper of the BOSTON GLOBE. The NFL yesterday "repudiated the president with an unprecedented display of anthem demonstrations and protests" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/25). In Las Vegas, Ed Graney writes if Trump's intention was to "create some sort of division between owners and players on the point, he failed." He caused the league to be as "supportive of players expressing socio-political views as it ever has been, certainly more than any time since Colin Kaepernick first took a knee" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 9/25). In Minneapolis, Jim Souhan writes Trump has "unified football, basketball and baseball players; coaches, management and athletes; protesters and conservative NFL owners" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 9/25). YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel wrote Trump yesterday "ran into unexpected and unprecedented solidarity in the NFL." Players, owners and coaches "generally feud over everything," but they "all agreed" yesterday. Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan: "We have a lot of work to do, and we can do it, but the comments by the President make it harder. That’s why it was important for us, and personally for me, to show the world that even if we may differ at times, we can and should be united in the effort to become better as people and a nation.” Wetzel wrote perhaps the "most striking" takeaway was the "thoughtful tone" players took in discussing the issue. There was "little to no name-calling," and there was "acknowledgement of differing opinions." There were "personal stories," and there was "anger and emotion expressed in a calm, thoughtful manner" (, 9/24).

DOING THE IMPOSSIBLE: In DC, Thom Loverro writes Trump has "served to unite two unlikely rivals -- NFL owners and players." What the public sees are "rich and famous athletes joined by richer owners protesting the American flag." But for those protesting, it is "far more complicated than that, and Sunday, they got a chance to deliver that message -- even if many don’t want to hear it" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 9/25). The BOSTON GLOBE's Gasper writes Trump "did the impossible," as he "made the behemoth, multibillion-dollar NFL the good guys" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/25). In DC, Jerry Brewer writes the NFL "looked united, arms locked, black and white." On a day when football "always takes siege of our interest, the NFL’s actions referenced fundamental human necessities that too much of America seems to have misplaced" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/25). In Colorado Springs, Paul Klee writes, "On the surface, the NFL on Sunday looked like a divided entity. I saw the opposite. I saw a locker room united with black guys, white guys, all kinds of guys. I saw a postgame prayer united with black guys, white guys, all kinds of guys." (Colorado Springs GAZETTE, 9/25). On Long Island, Neil Best writes Trump is trying to make the NFL "yet another screwdriver being used to tear us apart." What the league did this weekend "will not reverse that, but perhaps it will restore some sanity, or at least perspective" (NEWSDAY, 9/25). In Orlando, George Diaz writes it "seems that those SOBs not only took the field on Sunday but won going away" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 9/25).

ONE SHINING MOMENT: USA TODAY's Nancy Armour in a front-page piece writes the NFL yesterday had "one of its finest moments before the games even began ... coming together from every corner -- players, coaches, owners and league office -- in forceful rebuke" of Trump. Armour: "Whether black, white or brown, on bended knee or with locked arms, the NFL’s rare show of unity was both a dignified condemnation of the wrongs we still must right and a reminder that, for all of our differences, America remains our common ground." What made yesterday "so stunning was how out of character it was, a seismic shift for a league that has been loath to allow any kind of individuality or personal expression." The NFL showed that Trump "badly overplayed his hand" (USA TODAY, 9/25). 

President Trump's comments over the weekend drew responses from many NFL players and execs "who had not spoken before" on the issue, according to a front-page piece by Jonathan Tamari of the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins, who has raised his fist during the anthem the past two seasons, said, "We've got a lot of prideful guys in our league, and when you're pushed or come after ours, guys will respond. It's one thing to have a fan say something on social media, but to have high-ranking officials come out and single guys out, I think that's one of the things that let players know that their voices are needed" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 9/25). Jenkins added, "Everybody's saying the same thing: We need change. We want to be that vehicle to change our communities, and we need to use the platform that we have to do that. So, hopefully, people can begin to listen to some of those issues" (, 9/24). More Jenkins: "This is a moment that will go down in history. It's up to our country to say where it goes" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 9/25).

Here are a sampling of what some NFL players and personnel were saying after yesterday's games about Trump's comments:

  • Redskins CB Josh Norman: "What president? Not my president. He was chosen, true. But when a president acts like that, what do you say to that? That's not someone that stands with dignity, pride, respect, honor. ... Words are powerful. They can either unite you, or they can divide you. So what he said united us" (, 9/25). Norman added, "This man is not welcome here in Washington, DC. Hope he's not around when I see him. ... He's not welcome. He picked on the wrong people" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 9/25).
  • Ravens LB Terrell Suggs: "Non-violent protest is as American as it gets. We knelt with them today and let them know we are a unified front. There is nothing dividing us. I guess we're all sons of bitches" (, 9/24).
  • Browns QB DeShone Kizer: "I know for a fact that I'm no son of a bitch and I plan on continuing forward and doing whatever I can from my position to promote the equality that's needed in this country" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 9/25).
  • Chargers DE Chris McCain: "Why you tweeting us, calling me an S.O.B.? My momma ain't no 'B.' She's a real woman. ... Our own commander in chief, this guy who we're supposed to lean on and who is here to protect us, clearly is not on our side. He's not" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 9/25).
  • Dolphins OT Laremy Tunsil: "He called us sons of bitches? You're the president of the United States. You're not supposed to do anything like that. ... Now he's calling African-Americans sons of bitches because we're standing up for our rights. What's going on in America?" (, 9/25).
  • Lions coach Jim Caldwell: "I've been in the league a little while, and I know the players in this league. There are no SOBs in this league. These are men that work hard, of integrity, they're involved in our communities" (, 9/24).
  • Giants DE Olivier Vernon: "I'm a first generation American. My parents aren't from this country. (But) all those remarks just built up and I think just last night, just hearing that, kind of struck a chord. ... So I just did what was necessary" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/25).
  • Jaguars DT Malik Jackson: "We're unified and we all cared about the same thing. Any disrespect to our league or anybody who works in our league are not going to be tolerated" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 9/25).
  • Chiefs WR Chris Conley: "We're not all the same person, we're not all ... gonna think the same way. But we can still support each other and come together for a common goal and look at the issues and make it better" (K.C. STAR, 9/25).
  • Packers QB Aaron Rodgers: "On this team, we're going to keep choosing love over hate, unity over division, and that's what it was for us. ... Today was about using our platform to promote love and unity and acceptance and togetherness, and I hope we did that" (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 9/25).
  • Bengals WR A.J. Green: "We've got to show the world that no matter what your background, or your skin color, that we can come as one and stand as one. That's what we did today" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 9/25).
  • Saints coach Sean Payton: "I want that guy to be one of the smartest guys in the room, and it seems like every time he's opening his mouth it's something that is dividing our country and not pulling us together" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 9/25).

Fans at Gillette Stadium yesterday "booed during the anthem and some shouted, 'Stand up!'" to a group of 16 Patriots who knelt for the national anthem before yesterday's game against the Texans, according to Christopher Gasper of the BOSTON GLOBE. Patriots S Devin McCourty, who was one of the players who knelt, said, "We hate that people are going to see it as we don't respect the military and the men and women that are way braver than us and go and put their life on the line every day for us to have the right to play football. We know that people are going to see it that way" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/25).'s Tom Curran wrote, "It didn't surprise me some people at Gillette Stadium had a visceral and vocal reaction to players kneeling." The pot was "brought to a boil all weekend, the lid was just lifted and it bubbled over." Fans were there for football and "in the end it was the football that brought the unified response that stood in contrast to the divided reactions in the stands and on the field before the game." The "mish-mash of ways in which players responded during the anthem on the Patriots sideline, the reticence of some players to dip a toe in the conversation, McCourty's opening statement at the podium and then his declining to take questions" and Patriots coach Bill Belichick's comment that he "would 'deal with that later' all seemed to indicate that the team itself is still working through how it expresses itself as a whole" (, 9/24).

: The N.Y. TIMES' Hoffman & Booth note the entire Raider offensive line, which is "made up entirely of African-American players, was joined by virtually the entire team in kneeling or sitting during the national anthem." It was "one of the strongest visual displays of the many protests on Sunday." Many fans in attendance at FedExField "could be heard booing the players while they sat" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/25). In DC, Dan Steinberg notes after the anthem was played, many fans who booed the Raiders players "didn't leave" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/25).

MORE REACTIONS ACROSS THE LEAGUE: In N.Y., Hoffman & Booth note the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium for Browns-Colts was "booing loudly as players on both teams chose to either lock arms or kneel" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/25). In Indianapolis, Gregg Doyel notes "thousands were booing" and for the crowd, the booing "came fast and it came easy." The fans' rage prompted Browns RB Duke Johnson to "lift his arms in response, egging them on, asking them to bring it" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 9/25). In L.A., Farmer & King note at StubHub Center for Chiefs-Chargers, three Chargers "sat on the bench and three more knelt during the anthem." There were a "few catcalls of 'Stand up!' from the crowd." The rest of the team had "linked arms," including Chargers Chair Dean Spanos (L.A. TIMES, 9/25). In Baltimore, Broadwater & Zrebiec note many Ravens fans said that they were "supporting the demonstration as a way to speak out against racial inequality in America." But others "reacted angrily, describing the protests as anti-patriotic and promising to boycott the NFL and destroy their Ravens gear" (Baltimore SUN, 9/25). In N.Y., Ken Belson notes the Steelers, who remained in the locker room during the playing of the national anthem, were "booed heavily by fans in Chicago when they ran onto the field after the anthem" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/25). In Philadelphia, Michael Boren noted the debate "reached a boiling point half an hour before" Giants-Eagles as "about 20 protesters marched toward Lincoln Financial Field, chanting, 'Take a knee.'" Some fans "gave the protesters high fives, but others responded angrily" (, 9/24).

FAN WALK-OUT WOULD GET ATTENTION: In DC, Ralph Hallow writes organized mass exits would "beat the flag flouters at their own mass-media game." When fans "walk out after standing for 'Oh say can you see...,' the TV cameras will show" them "saying, louder and better, the opposite of what the flag back-handers are saying." The TV cameras will follow fans to the "exits of those vast stadiums -- instant TV impact nationally and internationally" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 9/25).

The idea of “'stick to sports' died for good Saturday" with President Trump’s comments, and the idea that sports "offered some kind of respite from politics, always flawed, has forever been abandoned," according to Luke DeCock of the Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER (9/23). In Denver, Mark Kiszla writes, "Stick to sports? It was impossible Sunday." Broncos President & CEO Joe Ellis said, "What did you expect? A lot of people go to NFL games to get away from politics and the discourse, but when it gets inflamed the way it did (by the president), I understand why it happened.” He added of Trump's comments, "It was disappointing. … It was divisive. I felt like we had to stick up for our players. I’m really proud of our players and everything they do. They’re a great bunch of guys. They’re not dividers, they’re uniters” (DENVER POST, 9/25). USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell writes the NFL "served up some history ... with the unpredictable games presented with a nod to the movement occurring with demonstrations all across the league ... as the ultimate in-your-face gesture to Trump." Bell: "The old 'stick to sports' suggestion no longer applies." The rhetoric from Trump "fueled discussions within the teams and dominated the NFL pregame television shows." Afterward, when most players "spoke publicly for the first time since Trump's speech, the topic buzzed" (USA TODAY, 9/25).

GONE FOR GOOD: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay writes, "No matter what side you fall on, I think we can all agree that 'Stick to Sports' is officially dead as a reasonable expectation in the American sports landscape in 2017." This has "always been a protest intended to provoke a much broader and harder-to-have conversation about racial and other mistreatment in this country, and what all of us can do to get better." That is a conversation that a "number of high-profile athletes in this country want to have -- and, because of the elevated place we give in this country to athletes, and all the patriotism we’ve wrapped around our sporting events, they now have a platform and our attention." Politics have "barged down the door," and they "look like they’re going to stay for a very long while" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/25).

AWKWARD POSITION FOR EVERYONE: In L.A., Farmer & King write football yesterday became the "latest unwilling participant in the nation’s culture wars" (L.A. TIMES, 9/25). Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, "This thing has put the players in an awkward position. Our guys remain very committed to winning football games and continuing the great things they do in our community of Cincinnati, their outreach and everything they do. They chose to show their support for our veterans, for our military, for the Cincinnati community by simply standing and staying unified together. They weren't going to let divisive words divide them" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 9/25). Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, whose team stayed in the locker room during the national anthem, said, "I didn’t appreciate our football team being dragged into politics this weekend" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/25).

Pre-race festivities for yesterday's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway were "completely devoid of the type of national anthem protests that have permeated other professional sports," according to Brant James of USA TODAY. Asked what he would do if one of his team members protested, Owner Richard Childress said, “Get you a ride on a Greyhound bus when the national anthem is over. I told them anyone who works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people have gave their lives for it. This is America.” Richard Petty added that he "would fire any employee that didn't stand for the anthem." Petty: "Anybody that don't stand up for that ought to be out of the country" (USA TODAY, 9/25). But Richard Petty Motorsports Majority Owner Andy Murstein said that he "would not fire an employee who protests." Murstein: "I would sit down with them and say it's the wrong thing to do that, and many people, including myself, view it as an affront to our great country" (, 9/24). Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most-popular driver for 14 years, today tweeted, "All Americans R granted rights 2 peaceful protests. Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable-JFK" (, 9/25).

NFL Exec VP/Int'l Mark Waller said that he "foresees expansion of regular-season football into England in the coming years on several fronts," according to Jason La Canfora of Waller said that could "mean eight regular-season games being played there in the near future, as well as one team playing in London more than once in the same season." Waller: "I definitely think you could play across a full season (eight regular-season 'home' games) and slate the games and I definitely agree with you, you'd want to see a team coming over and playing two or even three games, and then going back to the States and seeing how that works." Waller: "If you ever put a team here the schedule would have to work on a flighting of two or three games in the U.K., followed by two or three games in the States. I don't think you could expect a team to travel backwards and forwards every week. So we'd like to see what it's like to play here back-to-back weekends, and I'm sure we'll get to that in the next couple of years." Waller also "anticipates the Jaguars will extend their agreement with the league to continue playing in London" beyond '20, when the current deal expires (, 9/24).

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's new deal, which was "agreed to Wednesday after a meeting with the NFL's Compensation Committee," will run to '24 but, given the "complexity of the contract and the amount of money at stake, both his representatives and the league are taking their time drawing up the documents," according to Jason La Canfora of Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones was "not a factor in the process -- for better or worse -- and he was never on this committee or authorized to speak for other owners, who voted resoundingly back in the spring to empower the Competition Committee to finalize a deal with the commissioner without having to turn the matter back over to the full membership." Sources said that Jones was "never a formal or informal part of this process and was never working on behalf of any silent faction of owners." La Canfora noted the only issues of contention regarded the matter of what some owners "believe to be a bloated and overpriced league office on Park Avenue, with the number of individuals earning $500,000 or more a concern for many owners." Sources said that ultimately, there were "not new provisions put in place to limit salary or headcount," and as a practical matter Goodell's extension was "essentially in place weeks ago." Sources said that Wednesday's meeting "cemented some lingering tax and pension issues regarding the commissioner's pay package," and also "dealt with matters about future compensation should he leave the NFL before this contract expires" (, 9/24).

POTENTIAL CONTROVERSY? NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith last week was selected unanimously by a 14-player committee to lead the organization for at least the next three years, but in Boston, Ben Volin noted the way in which the NFLPA reappointed Smith has "raised a few eyebrows." NFLPA leadership "quietly voted to change its constitution this spring to alter its selection process, allowing a small group of NFLPA representatives to renew Smith's contract unopposed." DC-based attorney Cyrus Mehri, who was actively campaigning for Smith's position, said that he was "barred from speaking to any of the 14 voters about his ideas or the new selection process." And he "claims that when he spoke to the player reps -- most of whom were not part of last week's vote -- none of them even knew the constitution had been changed this spring." Mehri said that the NFLPA "didn't post its constitution on its website until August." Mehri said, "I started talking to player reps, and a couple of things happened -- they uniformly are in favor of competition, uniformly they feel I'm a legitimate candidate, and uniformly none of them remember signing off on changing the constitution. Which they must have done, but must have done in such a trickery way that they didn't know what they were signing on to. So I think there's a scandal buried in this thing, because normally a constitutional change would be in neon lights, very vivid and open" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/24).

The NHL Kings on Saturday defeated the Canucks in a shootout at Cadillac Arena in Beijing to win both of the league's first preseason games in China, capping a push to "popularize the sport in China" ahead of the '22 Beijing Games, according to the AP. Organizers put attendance at "almost 13,000, including many drawn from the Chinese capital's expatriate population" (AP, 9/23). The GLOBE & MAIL's Nathan VanderKlippe noted there were "several yawning sections of empty seats" for Thursday's Kings-Canucks game in Shanghai. Hockey HOFer Phil Esposito, who has become a kind of unofficial ambassador for the game in China, said, "The NHL blew it. You have got to promote. This game tonight -- I looked in the papers. There wasn't a goddamn word about it. Not one word." Canucks President Trevor Linden said of promotion for the games, "It's not ideal." However, VanderKlippe noted the league has "agreed to a total of six preseason games over eight years," and the first two "wildly exceeded the draw" of the KHL. The KHL Chinese Kunlun Red Star "regularly played in Shanghai to audiences numbering in the hundreds." Thursday's game in "one of Shanghai's premier locations showcased the NHL to a crowd who hooted at big checks, roared at goals and even managed a passable audience wave." Although the two games are a "blip on the hockey calendar, they carry some weight as the league decides how much to spend on fostering a new market in the world's second-largest economy, and for how long to commit." Linden said, "This is the test of whether they move forward and continue to play. I think it's gone well from a logistics standpoint." Linden added he hopes "there's some opportunity here" in "building a bit of a hockey culture in China" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/22).