George Boardman: Nobody’s covering himself in glory in the debate over Old Glory
Observations from the center stripe: Treats edition
I’M GUESSING a lot of trick-or-treaters are going to dress up as clowns this year … MY BIRTHDAY, my wife’s birthday, and our daughter’s birthday always fall on the same day of the week. There must be a word for that other than coincidence … CREMATIONS ARE now more popular than funerals, and are projected to exceed 70 percent of the market by 2030 … IS PUERTO RICO Donald Trump’s New Orleans? We’ll know soon enough … WITH THE tax cuts they’ve proposed, Republicans are no longer in a position to decry deficit spending …
Fans of hypocrisy have a rich vein to mine from the contretemps involving the leader of the free world, the most popular professional sport in America, and respecting our national symbol.
Egged on by a media that is more inclined to pour gasoline instead of cold water on a smoldering fire, what started out as a simple protest of police treatment of black Americans has morphed into yet another mindless battle in the ongoing war over cultural values.
Donald Trump couldn’t be more pleased.
This all started last football season when San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick went to one knee when the national anthem was played in the aftermath of several controversial police shootings of black people. A few players joined in initially.
While you have a legal right to not stand and honor the flag — the U.S. Supreme Court made that ruling in the middle of World War II — and can even burn the flag as a form of free speech, I wrote at the time that Kaepernick’s silent protest would just distract people from the message he was trying to deliver.
It took a while but my prediction finally came true when Trump recently addressed a political rally in Alabama. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of bitch off the field right now! Out! He’s fired. Fired!” our leader said.
Trump was there to rally support for senatorial candidate Luther Strange. Maybe he sensed Strange would lose the runoff for the Republican nomination (he did) or it’s just another example of Trump’s failure to stay on message, but his statement connected in a state where one of the few things they can be proud of is the state university’s football team.
The president waved the bloody flag a few days later when he said people who take a knee during the playing of the national anthem disrespect the people who fought to protect the freedoms Old Glory represents. “They were fighting for our flag, they were fighting for our national anthem and for people to disrespect that by kneeling during the playing of our national anthem, I think that’s disgraceful,” he said.
Of course, this is a man who passed on his opportunity to fight for the flag by taking four student exemptions during the Vietnam War and then a medical exemption for “bone spurs.” The spurs weren’t bad enough to require surgery and Trump can’t even remember what heal they were on, but it really doesn’t matter — he joins a long list of Republican war hawks who never served in Vietnam.
Then there’s Trump respect for America’s fighting men. Sen. John McCain was a Navy pilot whose plane was shot down over Vietnam, and who endured 5 1/2 years of torture and deprivation as a prisoner of war, but that doesn’t make him a hero is Trump’s eyes. “I like people who weren’t captured,” he said during the presidential campaign. This doesn’t seem to bother a lot of people who are upset with professional football players who “disrespect” the flag.
Most of those players couldn’t be bothered to join Kaepernick’s protest until the president entered the fray. I’m tempted to believe the recent team-wide protests before NFL games were more an attempt to give Trump the middle-finger salute than a sudden uniting of brothers in arms.
Even most of the team owners supported the players. These are the same owners who love their players as long as they perform at a high level, then throw them to the curb after injuries and the wear-and-tear of this violent game reduces them to mere mortals. These are also the same people who won’t admit that repeat concussions can cause permanent brain damage, but agreed to a multi-billion dollar settlement to limit their future liability.
But this is a $15 billion a year business that aspires to grow to $25 billion, and 70 percent of its key assets — the players — are black. That’s why the owners backed the players and why commissioner Roger Goodell issued a strong statement defending the actions of the players and taking the rare step (for the NFL) of criticizing a sitting president.
This prompted Fox News, which doesn’t need a memo from the White House to know what position to take, to jump to the defense of Trump. Of course, Fox News is owned by the same people who own the Fox entertainment network, which built the network by spending a fortune for — you guessed it — the broadcast rights to NFL games.
Football fans tend to be more conservative than average so it’s no surprise the NFL is taking a hit in its television ratings. I wonder how many of them are fans in the stands who don’t remove their MAGA hats and put their right hand over their heart when the anthem is played.
And I wonder how long these fans will boycott the games. The protests will fade, Trump will throw a new verbal grenade elsewhere, and the days will get cold as the playoffs approach. I’m betting TV ratings will rebound, just like they did last season.
After all, football is America’s sport. But I also think Denise Rohan, national commander of the American Legion, had it right when she said this about kneeling for the anthem: “Having a right to do something does not make it the right thing to do.”
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at email@example.com.
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