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).