Sunday, June 17, 2018

President Trump canceling Eagles' White House visit shows NFL failed on anthem policy

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SportsPulse: NFL insider Mike Jones breaks down the new national anthem policy and how owners, fans and players are reacting to it.
USA TODAY Sports

Look at the bright side, Philadelphia Eagles: Your team won’t be positioned in the Rose Garden as a political prop after all.

President Trump’s decision to rescind the White House’s invitation wipes out what loomed to be the most awkward championship event ever. Multiple reports indicated fewer than 10 Eagles players were expected to be on hand for the ceremony, leaving a majority of those making the trip to Washington, D.C., likely opting to spend Tuesday performing community service.

Now the Eagles can join the company of the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors as title winners with better things to do than share the stage with Trump. And that list will undoubtedly grow – albeit perhaps not with the NHL’s Washington Capitals or Vegas Golden Knights — with many future champions likely boasting a significant number of African-American players.

Sure, it’s a shame, as former Eagles receiver Torrey Smith expressed on Twitter in summarizing the flip as a “cowardly act” by Trump. Players who embraced the idea of being honored at the White House suddenly won’t get that opportunity. They’ll have to settle for having a place in history, at the intersection of sports, politics, polarization and activism.

Too bad there’s no such silver lining for the NFL.

Trump’s political punt underscored just why it was such a bad idea for NFL owners to pass that new, murky national anthem policy, as if it would squash the criticism coming from the President. Players now will be allowed to remain in the locker room for the anthem, but those who are on the sideline are required to stand and show respect, lest their teams be subjected to a fine.

Here’s to hoping they know better now.

Trump — who has called for players to be fired for protests and suggested that those who continue to do so “maybe … shouldn’t live in the country” — apparently never had any intention of pulling his punches on the NFL over the anthem issue, whether they changed the policy or not.

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According to The Wall Street Journal, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Trump admitted as much in a deposition by telling him the issue “lifts him” and the league “can’t win” on that front. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, per that same report, said he was “totally supportive” of players’ protests until Trump “changed the dialogue.”

NFL owners look silly about now – OK, sillier than two weeks ago – in weighing the criticism from Trump as one of the significant factors for changing the anthem policy. Kowtowing to him was hardly the ticket to reducing the attention on the matter … or to solidifying its fan base.

No, that plan is backfiring, with more fuel now heaped on the issue.

Trump made that perfectly clear late Monday when he took another shot at the NFL and its new anthem policy on Twitter. Scolded Trump: “Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!”

This came hours after the White House released a statement that yet again served up the narrative that the player protests have been about the about the American flag or some imagined disrespect to the U.S. military. And, naturally, it doesn’t acknowledge the soul of the issue with the protests.

No, the peaceful protests – including kneeling, as ex-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began at the suggestion of former Green Beret Nate Boyer – are First Amendment expressions targeting police brutality and social justice inequities that disproportionately affect African-Americans and other people of color.

But that’s where we are, still, with this range in worldviews. It brings to mind the remarks from Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie last October, when several team owners, Commissioner Roger Goodell and other NFL officials held a summit with players, including Eagles standouts Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long, at league headquarters last October.

According to The New York Times, which obtained audio recordings of the meeting, Lurie referred to Trump’s reign as “one disastrous presidency” while emphasizing that the president’s support from NFL owners was far from unanimous.

“We’ve got to be careful not to be baited by Trump or whomever else,” Lurie said, according to The Times’ report. “We have to find a way to not be divided and not get baited.”

Not a single Eagles player, by the way, has kneeled during the anthem. Jenkins, a co-founder of the Players Coalition, raised a first until later in the season after owners struck a deal to support social campaigns led by players. Long, the most prominent white player to speak openly about social issues that concern African-Americans, stood alongside his teammate with his hand on Jenkins’ shoulder during the anthem.

Neither Jenkins nor Long has declared whether they will come on the field for the anthem this season, the option that Trump blasted late Monday. Without a new policy, they wouldn’t have to contemplate whether they would come out of the locker room.

But at least one decision was made months ago. They weren’t going to visit with Trump at the White House, anyway.

Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.

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