Trump Weighed in on the Wrong Side of Two Issues Facing the NFL

If you are looking for someone to defend the National Football League—in general—I am not your person. Growing up in Texas meant that, by definition, I was a fan. But that all ended years ago when I watched how the league handled everything from players involved in domestic violence to owners’ attempts to hold taxpayers hostage for their elaborate stadiums.

But the display by the players and some of the leadership in the NFL this weekend in defending them against the tirade from our mentally unstable president was a sight for sore eyes. The attempt to strip players of their right to free speech in protest of police brutality and injustice was the latest in Trump’s demonstration of white supremacy.

In some ways though, the NFL brought this on themselves. It is only since 2009 that the players were even on the field for the national anthem. So Colin Kaepernick didn’t break some long-standing tradition associated with football. As Patrick Sauer reported, “the switch happened ‘because it was seen as a marketing strategy to make the athletes look more patriotic.'” The move to have the players on the field for the anthem was soon coupled with the fact that the Department of Defense paid out millions of taxpayer dollars to sports franchises—primarily to the NFL— for “paid patriotism.”

However, during his speech in Alabama, Trump didn’t merely call players who #takeaknee “sons of b*****s” and say they should be fired. He took on another issue that is currently plaguing the NFL. In the middle of his rant, he said this about why the league’s TV ratings are down:

Because, you know, today if you hit too hard, right, they hit too hard, 15 yards, throw him out of the game. They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes and two guys just really a beautiful tackle, boom, 15 yards. The referee gets on television, his wife it sitting at home, she’s so proud of him, they’re ruining the game. Right?

They’re ruining the game. Hey, look, that’s what they want to do, they want to hit, OK? They want to hit. But it is hurting the game.

He is, of course, referring to the rule adopted by NFL owners in 2013 to give a 15-yard penalty for striking opponents with the crown of their helmets. That rule was adopted during the time that the league was facing concussion litigation from almost 4,000 former players. Trump’s remarks coincided with this:

[Trump’s] demand for Mr. Kaepernick’s silence came two days after The New York Times reported on another form of silence that comes with the privilege of dedicating your life, breaking your body and soul, to be in the N.F.L. Doctors, it said, had found a severe level of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., in Aaron Hernandez, the 27-year-old former New England Patriot who committed suicide in April while imprisoned on a murder sentence. His brain showed the kind of damage usually seen in players in their 60s.

In a league where 68 percent of the players are African American, Trump’s words demonstrate that, for him, black lives don’t matter—whether it is a result of CTE or police brutality.

But since the NFL stood up to the president yesterday, the battle has been enjoined and many of Trump’s strongest supporters are now using CTE against them. Even his own son, who apparently didn’t listen to his father’s speech in Alabama, weighed in.

You see, this is all just a big game to them (pun intended), where you score points by trying to take down the opposition. It doesn’t matter who is getting hurt, because the real victims are simply pawns in a contest that is meant to produce winners and losers. Rank hypocrisy is no problem under those circumstances.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.