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Volume 24 No. 117

Leagues and Governing Bodies

President Trump today continued his attack on the NFL with several different tweets. He wrote mid-morning, "The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can't kneel during our National Anthem!" That comes after a series of three tweets posted early this morning that read, "Ratings for NFL football are way down except before game starts, when people tune in to see whether or not our country will be disrespected! The booing at the NFL football game last night, when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees, was loudest I have ever heard. Great anger. But while Dallas dropped to its knees as a team, they all stood up for our National Anthem. Big progress being made-we all love our country!" (TWITTER.com, 9/26). ABC’s George Stephanopoulos said, “From this morning’s tweets, the president seems to be enjoying this fight” ("GMA," ABC, 9/26). The marks the fourth straight day Trump has mentioned the NFL in a tweet and the fifth consecutive day he has commented on the league, going back to his speech last Friday in Alabama. The last time the NFL was mentioned on Trump's Twitter feed prior to Saturday was in '16 (THE DAILY).

PLAYING TO HIS BASE: THE HILL's Fabian & Easley reported Trump’s supporters are "voicing confidence that his attacks on protesting professional athletes will pay off politically." Many Republicans believe Trump’s comments will "energize a base fed up with protests by millionaire players that many can’t afford to go see, pushing back against the notion that the fight will turn more Americans against the president." Trump supporters were "encouraged the attacks would pay off for Trump no matter the racial animus" (THEHILL.com, 9/25). ESPN's Jeremy Schaap said, "It's about politics. It's about context. It's about red meat for the base" ("OTL," ESPN, 9/25). In Pittsburgh, Tim Benz wrote, "Did the President simply Twitter-troll the entire NFL to curry favor with his supporters ... and win?" Benz: "Was he just begging for a reaction ... and got one? It seems that way" (TRIBLIVE.com, 9/25). In California, Shad Powers writes most of the displays by NFL players over the weekend "felt a little forced because they were forced." The side each team "had to choose had nothing" to do with Colin Kaepernick's protest. No one was "picking sides on whether or not there should be racial equality." The issue has been "redirected to one of patriotism." Powers: "That's the problem" (Palm Springs DESERT SUN, 9/26). In New Jersey, Mike Kelly in a front-page piece writes under the header, "Vets Go To War With NFL Over Anthem Protests" (Bergen RECORD, 9/26). In Boston, Brian MacQuarrie writes under the header, "Military Veterans Are Divided Over NFL Protests" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/26).

RIFT GROWING AMONG FANS: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Robinson & Beaton write the "continuing clash" appeared to "create a growing rift among fans, with some vowing to boycott the league while others leapt to the defense of players after the president’s denunciation of the national anthem protests and the NFL through the weekend" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/26). NFL Exec VP/Communications Joe Lockhart in his weekly conference call "sympathized with NFL fans who were upset because they interpret the demonstrations as being anti-police and anti-military" but that supporting the players was "more important" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/26). Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, whose hometown Steelers stayed in the locker room during the anthem on Sunday, said, "This just is a way of dividing us in one of the areas we have always been able to unite" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/26). Meanwhile, Marie Tillman, the widow of former NFLer and Army Ranger Pat Tillman, said her husband's service "should never be politicized in a way that divides us." The AP notes Marie Tillman released a statement yesterday after Trump "retweeted an account referencing Pat Tillman and using the hashtag #StandForOurAnthem" (AP, 9/26).

CREATING DIVISION ALONG RACIAL LINES: In DC, Wesley Pruden writes players taking a knee "seem to be protesting racism as well as encouraging appreciation for the right to protest." What is "striking so far is how the kneeling demonstrates the sharp racial divide on the teams." Pruden: "Nearly all the kneelers are black. Most white players have stood tall with their hands over their hearts" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 9/26). In Boston, Steve Buckley writes Trump is using professional football players in his "latest attempt to build a virtual wall that separates White America from Black America" (BOSTON HERALD, 9/26).

SEEING SUPPORTERS CHANGE THEIR TONE
: ESPN's Michael Wilbon in a special to THE UNDEFEATED wrote the "last thing" Trump "could've expected" was Patriots Owner Robert Kraft issuing a statement against the president. Kraft was one of several team owners who donated to Trump during last year's presidential campaign (THEUNDEFEATED.com, 9/25). In Boston, Kevin Cullen writes, "Forced to choose between his fellow billionaire and the players that made him a billionaire, Kraft chose his players." Additionally, when Pats QB Tom Brady was forced to "choose between his teammates who win Super Bowls with him and the president he sometimes golfs with," he "chose his teammates" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/26). Meanwhile, Patriots coach Bill Belichick in a statement said, "I have immense respect and admiration for our players, for how they conduct themselves professionally as New England Patriots and for how they represent themselves, their families and community as men. ... One of the greatest things about being in this environment is the diversity of people, backgrounds, viewpoints and relationships we are fortunate to experience" (MASSLIVE.com, 9/25).

SHOW ME THE FUNNY: Trump's comments and the NFL's response was tackled on all of the late-night talk shows last night. NBC's Jimmy Fallon noted Trump “tweeted that players standing with locked arms for the national anthem is okay." Fallon: "Incidentally, people standing with locked arms is also the plan for his border wall." He added, "Trump said that NFL players shouldn't be allowed to take a knee during the national anthem, and that's not all. Trump also released a list of other rule changes he thinks the NFL should make. ... Trump's first rule is that someone has to get sacked every five minutes, just like at the White House. ... Then he said the broadcasters for every game have to be the hosts of ‘Fox & Friends'" ("The Tonight Show," NBC, 9/25). TBS' Conan O'Brien said Trump “took on the entire National Football League this weekend with his tweets." O'Brien: "Trump is angry at NFL players for their silent protests during the national anthem. … Trump said silent protests have no place anywhere outside my marriage. … The national anthem controversy has even caused a rift between President Trump and his longtime friend Tom Brady. Now folks, we should have seen this coming with Brady because whenever anyone that beautiful turns 40, Trump loses interest” ("Conan," TBS, 9/25). ABC's Jimmy Kimmel: "He called for a fan boycott of the NFL, which is interesting because for someone who is so critical of the NFL, you might be surprised to learn Donald Trump tried unsuccessfully to buy the Buffalo Bills a few years ago. He made a bid to buy the team, but they turned him down because they knew that any bills Trump supports never pass” (“Jimmy Kimmel Live,” ABC, 9/25). CBS' Stephen Colbert noted Trump praised NASCAR for not protesting, and some team owners threatened to fire drivers if they kneeled. Colbert: "There’s only one African-American driver in all of NASCAR and I’m surprised he can get around the track without being pulled over” (“The Late Show,” CBS, 9/25).

There are signs that some NFL players and coaches are "ready to move on from their anthem-related gestures" after just one week, according to Howard Fendrich of the AP. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, whose entire team except for Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva stayed in the locker room during the anthem on Sunday, said, "Moving forward, we will be on the field." Falcons coach Dan Quinn said, "I would anticipate maybe this one was stronger this week than it’s ever been, because [President Trump’s] comments affected people on such a different level. We haven’t talked about it further as a team, but my initial response would be it would settle more back down." Fendrich noted other players and coaches "indicated that their teams would discuss as a group how they want to proceed next weekend during the anthem." However, there seemed to be a "sentiment that fewer people would participate" (AP, 9/25). Raiders OT Donald Penn said, "I’m not going to do it again next week. I didn’t want to do it this week. This all had to do with President Trump’s comments. That’s the only reason that we did that" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/26). Cardinals DE Frostee Rucker said that he is "ready to move past the protests and 'focus on football,' but that he understands the gravity of the moment." In Phoenix, Greg Moore writes it is "unlikely that the protests will ever have as much momentum" as they did over the weekend and into last night (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 9/26). NFL Network's Ian Rapoport noted fans are "likely to see far fewer shows of unity and protests next week, although I'd expect some teams to continue it, perhaps continuing to lock arms” ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 9/25). In Boston, Ben Volin in a front-page piece notes several Patriots players on Sunday said that they "expect the demonstrations to be a one-time thing" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/26).

UNION NOT PLANNING ANYTHING: NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported the NFLPA "isn't planning any calls and not trying to organize anything on a wide-spread basis going into this week." The union instead wants the"players to take the lead." Protests likely will be determined "team-by-team as we move forward here." Bills LB Lorenzo Alexander said that demonstrating last week was a "one-off for him," but he "believes there will be other players who continue to raise a fist, take a knee, whatever it takes for them" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 9/25). In DC, Mark Maske noted the "verbal barrage" by Trump over the last few days has "put the NFL players, for once, on the same side of an issue" as Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners. However, it "wasn’t all smooth." The NFLPA denied a report that Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith "spoke with Goodell on Saturday about how to respond to Trump’s comments." But for the most part, this was the "rare occasion when the league and players spoke with practically the same voice" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/25).

OWNERS ONE AND DONE?
 Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones led the team in its on-field demonstration last night against the Cardinals, but in N.Y., Ken Belson writes team owners "locking arms with their players on the sidelines" in Week 3 may be a "short-lived" public demonstration of unity and support. While it is too early to know if the protests will continue, and in what form, Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan said that he "would not continue the practice in the coming weeks." Khan was the first owner to be seen linking arms with his players on the sidelines prior to Sunday's game against the Ravens in London, but he said, "I’m not a crusader, but this was a Rosa Parks moment for the Jaguars. I do not plan any future sideline appearances." Belson notes the owners’ decision to go with the players "struck some as a fallback to protecting the league brand, embodied in its ubiquitous shield emblem with the American flag motif." While some of the owners said that they "support the players’ right to speak out, they also worry about a backlash and recognize that many spectators object to protests during the national anthem" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/26). Comedy Central's Trevor Noah said, "It was important that the weekend’s protests included not just the NFL players, but the owners too, because when you think about how powerful this is, a lot of these owners supported Donald Trump. So you know it hurts his whole crux to see them taking the players side in this standoff” (“The Daily Show,” Comedy Channel, 9/25).

ALL EYES ON TRUMP
: PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio noted the NFL "believes and hopes that the President will move on to other things, allowing the NFL and its players to focus on the efforts that previously had begun to create and advance a dialogue between players and law enforcement and to engage in other efforts aimed at improving their communities." The goal is to "continue to move from protest to progress." However, that assumes Trump will stop "talking and tweeting about anthem protests." If he keeps it up, the league and the players "will feel compelled to continue to respond" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 9/25). The MMQB’s Robert Klemko predicted more teams will decide they would "rather sit out the anthem, as teams did pre-2009." But if Trump "continues to lob schoolyard insults at black athletes and use racist dog-whistle terms like 'ungrateful multi-millionaires,' I think you'll see much of the same" as was seen during Week 3. Klemko: "If he turns his focus to the job he was elected to do, or at least points his social media ire at some other entity, I think the tenor and volume of the protests will return to what they were last week -- an earnest few hoping to create a national conversation about police brutality and racial inequality" (SI.com, 9/26). Patriots OT Nate Solder said it was a "tough situation" for all players on deciding how to approach the national anthem. Solder: "I don’t think any of us wanted to get involved with that. I think that it was kind of put on us (by Trump)" (BOSTON HERALD, 9/26).

President Trump's recent comments on the NFL could prove to be a turning point in sports that "forces all athletes to reckon with the world" away from the playing field, according to Cathal Kelly of the GLOBE & MAIL. Kelly: "Maybe for the first time in quite a while" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/26). In Houston, Jenny Dial Creech writes, "Our athletes are not puppets there just for our enjoyment. They are people. They have thoughts and opinions and rights." They also have a "platform that can be and is often used to do so much good in communities around this country." Creech: "I hope they'll keep setting examples. I hope they won't stick to sports. I hope they can use their reach to make things better" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 9/25). In Miami, Greg Cote notes NFL players have "taken the lead" on social activism. However, as evident during NBA media day yesterday, what fans are "seeing in the NFL is not isolated." It is "broadening and has begun to resonate across sports" (MIAMI HERALD, 9/26). SI.com's Charles Pierce wrote under the header, "Athletes Are Not Going To 'Stick To Sports' And That's An Admirably American Thing" (SI.com, 9/25). In Austin, Kirk Bohls writes NFL players "spoke loudly" on Sunday "even without speaking." The messengers "spoke loudly if not clearly." However,the message itself "may have been lost" or at the "very least blurred" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 9/26).

LOOKING AT THE OTHER SIDE
: In Virginia, Harry Minium writes, "The problem here is that over the long haul, this controversy will tarnish the NFL’s image." The "pressure on players to conform, to take a knee or to remain in the locker room, is unhealthy for the NFL, and for our democracy" (Norfolk VIRGINIAN-PILOT, 9/26). In DC, Marc Thiessen writes Trump is correct in that NFL players' behavior is "hurting the league." If the league "won’t stop its players from disrespecting the flag, then maybe Congress should take a second look at some of the federal benefits the NFL enjoys" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/26).

GETTING PEOPLE TALKING: In Chicago, Rick Morrissey notes the discussion "isn’t going away." Morrissey: "It’s going to be very tricky, but it also has the potential to make people confront things that too often have been ignored" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 9/26). Ravens coach John Harbaugh said player protests are a "really good thing." Harbaugh: "That's a good thing (that) it's getting talked about. I think it's something that's a positive. It's not going to be easy. It's going to be painful" (Baltimore SUN, 9/26). In Columbus, Rob Oller writes, "You athletes own the floor at the moment. Hold a press conference instead of symbolically holding hands. Interact in person, not over the internet" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 9/26).

President Trump was a "common theme" for a majority of NBA teams' preseason media days yesterday, and Cavaliers F LeBron James "doubled down on his stance that the president is a 'bum,'" according to A.J. Neuharth-Keusch of USA TODAY. James said, "The people run this country. Not one individual. And damn sure not him." Neuharth-Keusch notes NBA players, coaches and other personnel have "not only come to the defense" of Warriors G Stephen Curry and the NFL, but "furthered the conversation surrounding the state of the country" (USA TODAY, 9/26). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Ben Cohen writes James' "stinging criticism" of Trump was the "most extensive and explicitly political statement of his career." The rebuke from James came two days after he called Trump a “bum” on Twitter. Once again James "refused to even address the president by name," referring to "Trump as 'that guy'" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/26). 

LEADER ON SOCIAL ISSUES: ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith noted some people might say James is a "little bit late to the party because others have been speaking out for months" about Trump, but he is an "incredibly influential individual of whose soul appears to be in the right place." Smith: "To be in a position that he is in with potentially so much to lose ... he is to be applauded for it.” ESPN’s Max Kellerman said James is not "late to the party at all," and in certain ways, he "has now passed Michael Jordan." James has taken a "strong leadership stance on social issues, practically from day one" (“First Take,” ESPN, 9/26). NBA TV's Kevin McHale said NBA players have a "huge role in discussing things that are problems for America.” But McHale said he does not "want this all of a sudden to be about kneeling." It is "about issues in America and how people can come back to help each other to get through those issues" ("NBA Media Day," NBA TV, 9/25).

TAKING IT TOO FAR? NBA.com's Steve Aschburner wrote James "helped move the conversation forward," but he "might have dragged it backward, too, in suggesting that people who voted for President Trump 'made a mistake' or were 'uneducated' in casting their ballots." James "shined a light and sharpened focus on an unwieldy issue," but went into "dicey territory" with some of his comments. James said, "At the end of the day, I don’t think a lot of people was educated. And I think that’s one of the biggest problems that we have." James' remarks also "bled into his relationship" with Cavaliers Owner Dan Gilbert, who "donated to Trump's campaign and met with him at the White House earlier this year." Where James could meet Gilbert in "using his voice instead of his knee and encouraging the same from his peers, is in taking steps toward those highly sought constructive conversations and positive resolutions" (NBA.com, 9/25).

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich yesterday "did not hold back" in criticism of President Trump and comments he made over the weekend, according to a front-page piece by Jeff McDonald of the SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS. Popovich, speaking at Spurs media day, said, "You wonder about if you live where you thought you live. I had no idea that I lived in a country where people would actually say that sort of thing" (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 9/26). Popovich said the U.S. is currently an "embarrassment to the world" (USA TODAY, 9/26). Popovich, who also blasted Trump following his inauguration, called Trump's rescinding of the Warriors' invitation to the White House "disgusting ... comical ... like a sixth-grader who was going to have a party in his backyard and he finds out somebody might not come, so he disinvites him." He added, "This is an individual who actually thought that when people held arms during the games that they were doing it to honor the flag. That's delusional. Absolutely delusional. But it's what we have to live with" (ESPN.com, 9/25). Cavaliers F LeBron James and other NBA players and team personnel commented on Trump yesterday, excerpts of which are below.

  • Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: "It's a polarizing time right now. It's a disheartening time. I commend the Golden State Warriors for the decision they made. I commend the NFL players and organizations for taking a stand right now for equality for inclusion, for taking a stand against racism, bigotry, prejudice" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 9/26).
  • Rockets G Chris Paul: "When ... you're supposed to be our leader, my kids shouldn't have to be looking at television seeing the leader saying the things he was saying" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 9/26).
  • Pistons President of Basketball Operations and coach Stan Van Gundy: "As an athlete, you’re too stupid to speak out? But it’s OK for business people to speak out? Or you don’t want anybody to speak out? Generally what people mean is they don’t want anybody that disagrees with them to speak out" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 9/26).
  • Clippers coach Doc Rivers: "If Donald Trump did his job, players would not be kneeling at the end of the day, ’cause I don’t think anyone wants this country to do poorly. We all are cheering for this country to do well. So, do your job and players will stop kneeling" (L.A. TIMES, 9/26).
  • Pelicans C DeMarcus Cousins: "The least of (Trump’s) concerns should be what’s going on in the NFL. We got world issues going on that are barely being talked about by him ... the leader of our nation. He needs to get his sh-- together" (LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, 9/26).
  • Wizards G Bradley Beal: "To me, you’re a clown. To do something like this, that’s unacceptable. That’s not what a leader does, your job is supposed to bring everybody together. And everybody in the world feels that since you got in office that hasn’t been the case" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/26).
  • Raptors G DeMar DeRozan: “You’ve got your President on Twitter more than a 12-year-old saying the most outrageous things" (NATIONAL POST, 9/26).
  • Suns C Tyson Chandler: "Those kinds of comments only divide, they don’t bring people together. They’re also insulting. 'Son of a b---h,' it doesn’t get any more insulting than that. That wasn’t a shot at just NFL players, that was shot at humanity to be honest. But the one thing I see coming from this is I see guys stepping up and coming together from all walks of life" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 9/26).
  • Celtics F Jaylen Brown: "We’ll open up a discussion about that and maybe do something as a team or just at least open up a dialogue about it" (BOSTON HERALD, 9/26).

NASCAR Exec VP & Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell yesterday addressed President Trump's comments, saying that NASCAR has "always supported the country and the flag, but not to the exclusion of other points of view," according to Lee Spencer of MOTORSPORT.com. O'Donnell, speaking yesterday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, said, "From our standpoint, we view ourselves as a sport. We want to continue to celebrate the flag but respect other’s opinions. Going forward, I think that’s where we stand. We hope people can contribute or look at NASCAR as something to tune into on a Sunday and enjoy a sporting event" (MOTORSPORT.com, 9/25). USA TODAY's Ellen Horrow notes Monster Energy has "yet to comment" (USA TODAY, 9/26). A Team Penske official said that his squad had "no specific policy on anthem protests." But he added that it is an "issue we’ve never faced and don’t anticipate facing.'" Team Owner Chip Ganassi said that he "liked 'Mike Tomlin’s answer,'" referring to the Steelers' coach, whose team did not appear on the sideline during the national anthem on Sunday, saying that his players "did not want to appear non-unified in their approaches" to it (WASHINGTON POST, 9/26).

GUILT BY ASSOCIATION? Racing reporter Jeff Gluck wrote under the header, "A Difficult Day To Be In NASCAR." Gluck: "NASCAR is the most American sport." There are "patriotic shows of support for the military at the track, thank-yous to soldiers through a variety of VIP access and weekly honoring of families who have lost loved ones during battle." But many NASCAR fans "seem to overlook a very important part of being an American: The right to free speech and peaceful protest." While it "would be nice to stick to sports, that becomes impossible once the president starts tweeting about NASCAR as a political prop." Gluck: "All those associated with NASCAR today are being stereotyped, and it sucks" (JEFFGLUCK.com, 9/25). The AP's Jenna Fryer wroteunder the header, "NASCAR Has Too Many Distractions Amid Playoffs." Two weeks into NASCAR's Chase for the Cup, there has been "little to no talk about the actual racing." Alienating "any part of the fan base -- and potential customers for those sponsors -- simply isn't good business, and it's why you won't see drivers or team members participate in any anthem protests." Fryer: "NASCAR needs to keep its attention on racing, where things are already bumpy enough without a whiff of politics" (AP, 9/25).

MAKING A STATEMENT: In Orlando, George Diaz asks, "Would NASCAR dare fire Dale Earnhardt Jr.?" NASCAR’s "Favorite Son didn’t double-dare NASCAR officials to do so, but he certainly went against the sport’s traditional values on peaceful protest in the wake of the National Anthem thunderstorm engulfing our nation." Diaz writes Earnhardt's tweet yesterday "certainly doesn’t fit in with the rigid mindset of the 'stick to sports' theme in the NASCAR garage." But Earnhardt has "always been his own man who doesn’t quite fit in with NASCAR’s conservative-leaning culture" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 9/26).