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June 05, 2018

The NFL has allowed its league to be turned into a political football

It wasn’t enough that the Philadelphia Eagles took down Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Now, after ruining a party planned by Donald Trump, they have become the organization most admired by many of the men who actually play the game.

Unwilling to play the role of pawns in Trump’s photo opportunity, most of the Eagles declined an invitation to attend the customary Super Bowl championship reception on Tuesday in the nation’s capital. As a result, Trump canceled the invite.

On some levels, this is understandable.

Trump did not want to be embarrassed by having only a handful of Eagles at his party. But it still looks small for Trump to disinvite even those few players who wanted to attend. Then again, what could you expect from a man who was so upset at the reports of how many people attended the inauguration? 

Trump did not want to be embarrassed — period — so he rescinded the invite.

The bigger side of this story is not that Trump pulled back the invitation, but that so many Eagles chose to stay away. The NFL and Trump should really look at this is a clear picture of how the majority of players feel about the entire situation with the national anthem.

Although Trump has tried time and again to view this protest as a sign of disrespect to the military, it really has nothing to do with the military. In fact, this whole issue began when former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to sit during the national anthem to protest social inequities.

The sight of Kaepernick sitting during the anthem upset then-teammate Nate Boyer, the club’s long snapper and an Army veteran.

“I expressed to him, maybe there’s a different way of demonstrating, where you’re showing more respect for those who laid down their lives for what that flag and anthem stand for,” Boyer said of his conversation with Kaepernick. “I suggested kneeling, because people kneel to pray; we’ll kneel in front of a fallen brother’s grave.”

Time and again Boyer has pleaded for a middle ground, and it appeared there might be a middle ground when NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goodell approved a model in which players would be required to stand for the anthem, but could elect to stay in the locker room.

The trouble is the NFL did not check with the players — and the players don’t believe they had much say in the result.

Although you can make a strong argument that it is Trump who has used this whole anthem issue to advance his own agenda and empower himself within his base of support, there must also be a whole lot of blame placed on Goodell and the NFL owners who have failed to earn the trust and respect of their players. 

All you have to do is look at the distrust in the whole concussion issue and you can see the disconnect.

Goodell and the owners, especially Dallas owner Jerry Jones and New England owner Robert Kraft, have failed to promote meaningful dialogue. Time and again it appears that the NFL and its players have a relationship of “us against them.”

Some of this is because the NFL career is so short and as a union the NFL players don’t have the sway of other sports. But it seems pretty clear that the NBA has a much better handle on dealing with its players than the NFL.

The NBA players have been pretty clear in their thoughts about similar social issues. However, since the 1980s the NBA has had a rule about standing for the anthem, and the players have understood the reasoning because the leaders of the league have actually listened, and the players feel part of the process.

NBA coaches are not afraid to go out in public and address issues that they talk about with their players. It certainly appears that the league values the opinions and the concerns of the men who play the game.

In the NFL it appears that Goodell cares about what Jerry Jones thinks about the issues. Make no mistake, many of the owners are taking marching orders from Trump, who has a wide-open pipeline to Jones. The owners and Goodell even tried to make the whole issue go away recently when they came up with the solution that players could stay in the locker rooms during the anthem. The NFL even tried to make it seem like it was “unanimous,” but we all found out later that some owners weren’t even involved in the so-called unanimous vote – and the players had no voice.

Goodell has done a horrible job in the damage control after the Kaepernick mess. The NFL could be a business school study in how not to react in a stressful situation. The NFL has literally allowed its league to be turned into a political football, and Trump has been masterful at controlling the line of scrimmage.

Certainly there is plenty of blame to go around, and arguments can be made on either side of this issue. While most want to pit Trump against the players, however, it should not be lost that Goodell and his band of owners have allowed it to get to this point.

It is hard to believe that men who have amassed so much wealth could be capable of allowing their business to become mired in such a mess, but here we are preparing for the next season and the problem is getting worse under their lack of leadership.