Remember the good old days when politics and sports were covered in two separate sections of the newspaper? That quaint practise came to a swift and sudden end on Friday when President Donald Trump criticized NFL players who refuse to stand during the national anthem. Speaking to a partisan crowd in Alabama, Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired.'”
Trump stirred up even more controversy the following day on Twitter when he disinvited the Golden State Warriors from visiting the White House. The melodramatic tweet — which had the feel of a junior-high break-up — was all the more peculiar since the Warriors had never been invited in the first place.
We’ve viewed the President’s tweets and speech closely and have set the odds on a wide array of political scenarios, including the next team Trump will disinvite, the number of players who will take a knee throughout the major American sports leagues, and the odds that any player will be “fired” from his team for peacefully protesting.
If there are two things we’ve learned about Donald Trump over the years, one is that he’s remarkably petty and the other is that he has a very long memory. Those two qualities will likely prevent the next Super Bowl champion from receiving an invitation to visit the White House. The Donald won’t be quick to forgive or forget the way the league’s players and owners bonded together and responded in the wake of his incendiary comments in Alabama.
At this point, it feels like any self-respecting team would decline an invitation to visit the White House, but we’re giving the edge to Major League Baseball due to scheduling. The MLB will crown its next champion before any other league and will therefore have the first shot at declining a personal invitation from the President.
Few athletes have been more critical of Trump than LeBron James, who has called the President a “bum” and has continually questioned his leadership skills. “He doesn’t understand the power that he has, for being the leader of this beautiful country,” James recently said during the Cavs’ Media Day. “He doesn’t understand how many kids, no matter the race, look up to the President of the United States for guidance, for leadership, for words of encouragement. He doesn’t understand that, and that’s what makes me more sick than anything.” Those are strong words from a man who really does know a thing or two about leading others.
The Patriots have the best shot at winning the Super Bowl, but they also have some of the strongest ties to Trump. Team owner Robert Kraft is a close personal friend of POTUS, and Tom Brady has known Trump for 15 years and has played golf with him on countless occasions. We’re giving the nod to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Head coach Mike Tomlin made the call to keep his team in the locker room during the National Anthem on Sunday, and he sounded openly resentful of Trump when addressing the media afterwards. “We will not be divided by this,” he said. “We got a group of men in there that come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, creeds, ethnicities, religions and so forth. That’s football, that’s a lot of team sports. But because of opposition, we get drug into bulls–t, to be quite honest with you.”
Baseball teams have been visiting the White House since 1865, but that could come to an end later this year. If the Red Sox win it all (and that’s a big if), it’s easy to imagine the team declining an invitation. Team owner John W. Henry also owns The Boston Globe, and the paper has been notoriously tough on Trump and his policies. Henry is also very sensitive to racial issues and is part of a group that has been petitioning the city to change the name of Yawkey Way, a street named in honor of one of baseball’s biggest bigots. Turning down Trump would be a bold political statement and it would help sell plenty of newspapers. That sounds like a win-win to us.
LeBron and Steph Curry may not agree on much, but they’re on the same page when it comes to Trump, and we’re pretty certain they’ll agree that Melo will run out of things to do in Oklahoma City within five hours of landing at Will Rogers Airport. OKC may be an NBA town, but it’s a far cry from New York City.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his predecessor Paul Tagliabue both had strong words for Trump on the weekend. The commissioner most likely to follow suit is the NBA’s Adam Silver. The Association’s head honcho is famous for having his players’ backs and has been a public supporter of free speech. He banned Donald Sterling for life and has encouraged his players to use their celebrity status to express their political views.
To date, about 170 NFL players have knelt for the anthem. Trump’s rhetoric is only adding fuel to an already large conflagration, and that number is going to go up. The NBA will likely see plenty of kneelers, too, because LeBron basically said it’s ok, and we all know who the real boss is here.
The Warriors don’t visit the nation’s capital until Wednesday, February 28th, but it’s easy to imagine them making the most of their trip to Washington by taking part in a peaceful protest or by joining community leaders in a celebration of equality, inclusion, and diversity. It’s the Warrior way, and it’s what makes them such tremendous ambassadors for the NBA.
No owners have supported what Trump said, and it would be death-by-media if any of them demanded that a player be cut because of a peaceful protest. If the protests go beyond just kneeling for the anthem and take a darker turn, there may be cause for termination. But nothing is leading down that murky road at this point.
Snyder and Jones both donated to the Trump campaign, and neither criticized the president after his divisive comments, as so many others did. Snyder is already known for being on the wrong side of history, refusing to change the racist epithet that adorns his team. Supporting Trump would be easy by comparison. His maverick nature notwithstanding, Jones is too savvy a businessman to come out in support of Trump on this issue, no matter his politics.
Trump made Woody Johnson ambassador to Britain. That’s gotta be worth a little loyalty, right? I suppose George III would advise Trump to beware the loyalty Americans.
*It’s not overly likely any teams go to such lengths, but these are the favorites if it does happen.
A number of owners blasted Trump for his remarks, including Chargers owner Dean Spanos, whose team could use some good-will from locals. This would be a pretty clever PR move.
Atlanta is another Democratic hotbed and, even before Trump’s latest comments, Falcons owner Arthur Blank was not a fan. Banning him from his shiny new stadium might help fans forget the last 20 minutes of Super Bowl 51.
Once upon a time, Jacksonville owner Shad Khan was a Trump backer. That’s screeched to a halt faster than Chad Henne’s career as a starting quarterback.
What’s that? The NFL doesn’t like Trump? Well Trump doesn’t like the NFL. In fact, Trump never liked the NFL. Trump always thought the NFL was a loser. Trump has barely even heard of the NFL. What is it, anyway, some sort of halfway house for dangerous offenders? Sad.
All jokes aside, barring a complete reversal on his anti-kneeling stance, the league and the Donald will remain at odds. He won’t be going where he isn’t welcomed as a paragon of patriotism.
Plus Minnesota voted for Hillary.
Are these odds tongue-in-cheek? Yes. Are they as tongue-in-cheek as they should be given that we’re talking about the “Leader of the Free World.” Sadly no.
As mentioned, the Bo-Sox would have the support of owner John W. Henry, and manager John Farrell extolled the virtues of his diverse clubhouse in the wake of Oakland’s Bruce Maxwell kneeling for the Star Spangled Banner.
Astros manager AJ Hinch seemed to be even more supportive of player’s rights, telling MLB.com, “Our players, our staff, we’re socially aware of what’s going on. … I’m proud to be an American. I’m proud to have the rights we have. I know who’s fought for those rights and I know they’re very meaningful to everybody in our clubhouse and around our sport. … I wish everybody would respect the right that we can all have the same rights but yet disagree and work towards a common goal and a better world.” Texas is not as safe an environment to kneel as Massachusetts or the City of Angels, of course.
Trump declined to throw out the first pitch at the Nationals’ home opener this year, eschewing tradition. Ostensibly the President had a scheduling conflict. In reality — my reality, anyway — he didn’t want to embarrass himself on a national stage and he knows that his arm hasn’t gotten any stronger since he bounced one into home plate at a minor-league game in Jersey.
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