President Trump and the NFL: The “D” Words

Almost anyone in the U.S. who follows professional football or politics or listens to or reads the news or participates in social media knows that President Trump has sent out a series of tweets dealing his disapproval of NFL players kneeling for the national anthem. And, not only did he tweet his displeasure, during a rally in Alabama, he called the players “sons of bitches” - a term that even embarrasses me to write.

I am struggling to answer the “why” question. Why would the President tweet such things and why is the NFL even a topic of his attention? I, for one, imagine the President has many possible issues on which to focus and about which he needs to prioritize.

Forget for a moment that the President’s actions have produced a result he (and lots of others) could not possibly have anticipated: a pulling together of NFL players, team staff and owners against the President. Really! Hard to predict. So, consider these explanations, understanding that they may overlap too.

These tweets:

1. Represent the President’s personal views that he wanted to describe and share with the nation given their importance to him as an individual.

2. Were intended to damage and demean those who are not overtly supportive of the U.S. and its national symbol, especially as we head into a possible war with North Korea.

3. Are intended to be divisive, distracting people from other serious issues like hurricanes and earthquakes that are harming millions of people (not to mention North Korea) and to which there are no easy short-term answers.

4. Foster drama and dissention, because that will enable people to turn away from or break rank with others with whom they previously had positive or tolerable relationships, in part to direct attention from issues of national import.

5. Diminish our focus on national healthcare by focusing on a sport that highlights the physical fitness of its players.

6. Deride those who won’t support war (when it occurs), as if football and the national anthem are stand-ins for war and warriors.

7. Deal with boredom since his family was out of touch as they were celebrating Sabbath and his wife was traveling.

Many see the President’s tweets on the NFL as, in sum, manipulative. Why not take the public off track in terms of national priorities (education; global warming; nuclear war; Obamacare) and create a controversy that will occupy the minds of many.

Good strategy. Usually.

But, this time, I think the strategy has backfired. As Caroline Kennedy wrote, there are many who show their patriotism through dissent: marchers, musicians, mothers do this. And, ironically, many people have friends or family in Puerto Rico or Houston or Florida and see the need for people to pull together, not apart. And, NFL players understood that the origins of the protest of the national anthem were related to race and inequality and discrimination. Worthy causes all.

The best “d” word to describe the President’s NFL tweets isn’t “dumb;” surely there has to be some level of awareness with respect to this many tweets on a weekend in which folks are watching football. The best word isn’t delirious, although some do suggest that the President suffers from some psychological illness or pathology.

The best word to describe the President’s behavior is disappointing. Whether you are on the left or the right or anywhere in between, you can see the real issues our nation confronts and the need to move our nation forward and improve the lives of our citizens. Our President is not facilitating that progress.

For me, the tweets are also discouraging. I want our President to create a world with respect to which we can be proud and which we can hand off to our children and our children’s children – knowing they will inherit a world that will foster success, provide quality employment, lift those in poverty or suffering from illness and give meaning to that which is truly American: a belief in the importance of a world that is grounded in the words of our Declaration of Independence: a world that fosters life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Liberty. That’s a word the President’s NFL tweets quash. But, thankfully, we are, as a nation, defenders of our nation’s formative document – a powerful Declaration (a critical “D” word).

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