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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 12/29/17

The NFL Is a Microcosm of Our Year of Trump

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The amount of time Trump spent tweeting and talking about the NFL in 2017 is absurd. After Hurricane Maria--a category 5 storm--hit Puerto Rico and the island was in a state of crisis (it's Puerto Rico's worst natural disaster on record) Trump had a press conference with the PM of Spain, Mariano Rajoy. Steve Holland of Reuters asked Trump the first question that was on everyone's minds: "There's some concern that you were preoccupied with the NFL instead of dealing with Puerto Rico. Why isn't that a fair assessment?"

Holland was referring to the fact that Trump tweeted about the NFL nearly as much as he did Puerto Rico. Over the course of 30 days, 12 percent of his tweets were about the NFL and the national anthem protest sparked by Colin Kaepernick, while 16 percent of his tweets were about Puerto Rico.

In response to Holland, Trump said, "To me, the NFL situation is a very important situation." Always playing the patriot, Trump said, "I was ashamed of what was taking place, because to me that was a very important moment. I don't think you can disrespect our country, our flag, our national anthem." He was talking about players kneeling during the anthem in solidarity with Kaepernick and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Puerto Rico is a US territory, yet instead of offering unflinching support, Trump tweeted about the NFL, and Trump tweeted about Puerto Rico's debt :

This hardly feels supportive. As usual, Trump operates in a gray area of patriotism. It would seem that patriotism would include support for our territories, yet when Puerto Rico asked for an exemption from the new tax law, a law that could hurt Puerto Rico's economy even further , Trump denied it. The new tax law is supposed to bring corporate jobs back to America--which would seem, on the face of it, patriotic. But wouldn't it also be patriotic to grant battered, degraded Puerto Rico an exemption to the law? Puerto Ricans are American citizens. However, for some odd reason, manufacturing in Puerto Rico is classified as foreign manufacturing. The new tax law will hurt American companies operating in an American territory, and it will hurt American citizens working in Puerto Rico, who have already been slammed by Hurricane Maria.

What does this have to do with the NFL? Plenty. It would seem patriotism would support the economy for all American citizens, including Puerto Ricans, and it would seem patriotism would support citizens' right to protest, a right enshrined in our constitution. Trump's version of patriotism does not support the players' right to protest; it supports the owners' right to fire players.

In a speech in Alabama , Trump said owners should fire players who kneel during the anthem. Owners have been reluctant to step down from supporting their players because players are the game--it doesn't exist without them. Even so, Trump's divisiveness and constant railing against players had an effect.

This became one of sports' biggest stories of the year because it illustrated the role money plays in the game, and it showed the turmoil over patriotism that illustrates why the NFL is a microcosm of America under Trump. After Trump's verbal war against player protests, ratings started to slip, which affects advertising revenues, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones decided to step up and say he would bench any player who "disrespects the flag."

Surely Jones wouldn't allow players to "disrespect the flag," particularly when it could hurt advertising cash. Along with the citizens of Arlington and the NFL, Jones helped fund one of football's most expensive stadiums , AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, which cost $1.3 billion. Ad cash goes towards paying for a ridiculously extravagant stadium. ESPN's Jemele Hill tweeted that the best way to get to Jones was through advertisers, after which ESPN suspended her, and of course Trump called for them to sack her.

Are NFL owners there to support players so players can win games, or are they there to make money off the backs of players? Things have started to look bad for the NFL. From 2014 to 2015, there was a 58 percent increase in concussion diagnoses , yet further analysis showed that owners omitted about 100 concussions from the reported figures. Add this to the fact that a lot of players' contracts aren't guaranteed, and you get an image of a league that damages players and then gets rid of them. Colin Kaepernick has sued the league for collusion, claiming owners are conspiring not to hire him because his protest is bad press.

Kaepernick's protest is about how America treats black people poorly. Not surprising, then, that a president who stood up for white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia would label Kaepernick's protest "unpatriotic." It's been a year in which NFL players are pointing out the nation is racist, and owners and audience must decide whether to side with a racist president or the players who are protesting racism.

Overall, it's been a year in which the NFL's conflict is symbolic of America's conflict as a whole: the divide between the oppressed and the elite, the question of what patriotism is. Does patriotism question the nation's wrongs and try to make them right, or does it stand and salute a flag without question? Does patriotism seek to support each individual citizen's right to equality, or does it promote the captains of industry, the owners, the corporations, the right to rape the land and profit from underpaid labor? These are questions we need to answer, and soon. America is taking a test of our patriotism under Trump. We must pass with flying colors.

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