President Donald Trump during a rally in Huntsville, Ala.

Tom Brenner / The New York Times

September 27, 2017

McDEVITT | Trump, Leave My Football Be

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President Donald Trump laced the NFL with discord this weekend after statements he made to an Alabama crowd Friday night regarding the decision by some players to kneel during the national anthem before games.

To be quite honest, it pains me to even have to write this column. The fact that the words “President Trump” and “football” could even be in the same sentence is evidence of an issue in itself. I could sit here and write cheeky attacks such as, “the president should stick to his busy schedule of grabbing pussies and insulting war heroes,” but I will do my best to hold back on that front.

Instead, let us take a measured look at the president’s comments and the implications of this weekend’s events for the NFL and the country.

Taken at face value, what the president said on Friday raises a lot of questions. Are people exercising their constitutional rights by kneeling? Is their message of racial injustice an important one to send? These questions are very significant, and their answers have heavy implications. But they are conversations for another time, and are better answered by a writer in The Sun’s opinion section.

What is important to me here is the use of football, a sport that is near and dear to my heart, as a political tool. The president has a brand of divisiveness; he has a well documented history as a polarizing figure that need not be detailed in this column. But in weaponizing football for political gain, Trump has caused the NFL community to unite in opposition. Even the president’s own friend Bob Kraft, the New England Patriots owner who gave the president a Super Bowl ring at the White House last month, condemned his comments as unnecessarily divisive.

The statements from Kraft and other owners, both in press releases and on the field this weekend, essentially all amount to the same thing: mind your own business. Football is a force for good in communities around the country, and nothing the president can say will ever change that. So with a pretty universal response from the league in opposition, it begs the question, why did the president say what he said?

It seems that Trump’s goal here is two-fold. First, to galvanize his base around an issue with which they largely agree: People should stand for the national anthem. At its core, this is a statement that does not sound so crazy. If he had said it that way, I might have even agreed. Yes, people probably should stand for the national anthem in general.

Trump’s second goal is easier: bait the media into sensationalizing what he says. And, like the other two or three dozen times this has happened, it worked like a charm. CNN and others like them went to town on Trump for saying something crazy. What the media heard was “get that son of a bitch off the field!” What his base heard was “people should stand for the national anthem.” It does not matter to them that he said a whole lot more than that. And therein lies the problem that the president has created.

The owners are right. Football is a great thing for this country. And the fact that the president would make such vicious statements about the NFL is evidence that the contentious discourse in this country has gone too far. Even here, on this campus, it seems that the divisiveness has trickled down to every facet of the community. Perhaps we can all use football and sports in general as an example in uniting against that very idea.