Trump: "Maybe you shouldn't be in the country" if you don't stand for the anthem

It’s confirmed: the 2018 NFL season will be lit. The NFLPA had already served notice that players wouldn’t feel compelled to avoid running up fines for their owners over the new anthem-protest rule imposed by the league yesterday. Now that Donald Trump has endorsed it, get ready for all sorts of posturing on all sides before the kickoffs in September:

The president during an interview with “Fox & Friends” touted the NFL’s new rule, which bans on-field protests during the national anthem, and chided the league for allowing players to remain in the locker room.

“I think that’s good. I don’t think people should be staying in the locker rooms, but still I think it’s good. you have to stand proudly for the National Anthem,” Trump said.

“You shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country,” he added.

That last part about leaving the country is Trump’s typical hyperbole. It’s silly, but it resonates among those truly offended by players turning the anthem and the flag into political footballs, so to speak. And let’s not forget that leaving the country was and is a favorite theme among the celebrity ranks of La Résistance, too. That kind of hyperbole plays both ways, unfortunately. At any rate, it’s possible to criticize the players for these displays without having the head of state suggesting they don’t belong in the country at all, just as it is possible to dislike a president without having to declare “America is over!” while making millions from it.

Interestingly, Trump doesn’t give himself credit for the change, even though he clearly played a role in both increasing pressure on the league and provoking wider protests. Trump’s being uncharacteristically modest here; had he not begun ripping the league over the protests, they might have faded away by now. Instead, Trump gave them new momentum by giving them a new target — Trump himself — and shifting their cause from criticizing police to becoming free-speech martyrs. Fabulously wealth free-speech martyrs, to be sure, playing on fields provided by taxpayers to billionaire owners and millionaire players and protected by the same police they’re protesting, but still posing as free-speech martyrs just the same.

Trump’s suggestion that they leave the country should get them at least another full year of that martyrdom. That means the league will have to go back to the drawing board in order to avoid the public-relations damage these protests will do, and the end result is likely that all teams will remain in the locker rooms during the anthem, which is the only way to end the protests. How long will it take before the owners do that? The over-under is week 6, so place your bets now.

Trump’s undeniably right about one thing: the NFL owners should have addressed this issue when it first started. Rather than deal with a threat to their business model when it first arose, they first hemmed and hawed, and then appeased the activists. Now no one’s happy and their product is being overshadowed by the controversies surrounding it. This rule change won’t improve matters, and Trump’s happy to keep the controversy going for his own purposes. How many times will Trump bring this up in the midterms, especially in the final eight weeks or so when NFL play begins? Every chance he gets.

Have a fun 2018, Roger Goodell.

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