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Volume 24 No. 117
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Trump Takes On NFL: Team Demonstrations Take Place Throughout The League

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" (MMQB.SI.com, 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: SI.com'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" (SI.com, 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" (PALMBEACHPOST.com, 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" (TRIBLIVE.com, 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: ESPN.com'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" (ESPN.com, 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 (MMQB.SI.com, 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" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/24).