***Update to original column: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has issued a statement responding to the president’s “divisive comments” that “demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”***
The NFL had to say something.
The NFL had to say something because the President of the United States, carrying the loudest voice in the world, backed it into a corner.
It had to say something because President Donald Trump took an unambiguous shot at the product the league so fiercely protects. It had to say something because he encouraged fans to turn away. And more than all else, the NFL had to say something because the President of the United States profanely derided a segment of human beings – and players – who are reaching for the freedom that he was elected to protect.
The NFL had to say something because the league backed this president, and he returned the favor by using the NFL’s struggles as a form of political currency while stoking his base in Huntsville, Alabama, on Friday night.
Lest anyone forget, the NFL bought part of this. It bought part of Trump. And not just a smattering of owners, either. We’re talking about the league itself.
Nearly eight months ago, when it came time to open wallets for Trump’s inauguration, the NFL answered the call in an unprecedented way. Eight team owners pumped a collective $7.25 million into Trump’s inaugural committee, representing the largest gift from a collective group of power brokers from any major sport. And it didn’t stop there. Even NFL Ventures – the league’s marketing and promotional behemoth – donated $100,000, according to Federal Election Committee documents.
Say what you want about NFL owners following their own political agenda, but the core center of the NFL’s “face forward” effort toward the fan base is NFL Ventures. It is the league.
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So what has the NFL gotten for all those golden quarters pumped into Trump’s inauguration? Pretty much the same thing everyone has gotten out of his presidency thus far: A busted political slot machine of loud noises, flashing lights and no payoff.
That’s the reality for the NFL after Friday, when Trump spoke to a crowd in Alabama and repaid the league’s generosity with this:
“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. He’s fired!’ ”
“When the NFL ratings are down massively. Massively. The NFL ratings are down massively.”
“Because you know, today if you hit too hard: [Flagged] 15 yards! … They’re ruining the game!”
“But do you know what’s hurting the game more than that? When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem. The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. [It’s] not the same game anymore, anyway.”
It’s not every day a group gives a president millions of dollars and then the commander-in-chief repays it by stirring up every one of that organization’s nightmares in the span of a few minutes. And doing so for no real tangible reason, mind you. That should give the NFL’s owners some food for thought.
Why was Trump even talking about the league in the first place? There was no reason other than picking some low-hanging fruit and playing to his crowd, which is seemingly the most consistent staple of Trump’s speech and Twitter doctrine.
All the while, seriously dragging a cabal of powerful NFL owners that gave money to him. A group that includes the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones; the Washington Redskins’ Dan Snyder; the Jacksonville Jaguars Shad Khan; the Houston Texans’ Bob McNair; the New England Patriots’ Bob Kraft; the New York Jets Woody Johnson; the Los Angeles Rams’ Stan Kroenke and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Ed Glazer.
Imagine being the NFL or part of that ownership collection and watching Trump simultaneously weave together all of the league’s public relations nightmares in the span of minutes. Invoking changes that were made because of concussions. Touching on player protests. Ripping the ratings and suggesting fans should abandon the games.
If that’s not the worst return on the NFL’s and its owners’ collective $7.35 million investment, I don’t know what is.
And for that and a litany of other reasons, the NFL had to say something because parts of the league have already silently endorsed this with dollars. And because the league seemingly lives to make statements when someone is taking a sledgehammer to the bedrock.
Concussion litigation? The league has a voice.
Ratings? The league has a voice.
Quality of play? The league has a voice.
Now Trump has called the NFL’s next protesting player a “son of a bitch” and suggested he should be banished for expressing the freedom the president is elected to protect. There is no getting around this anymore: Trump took the NFL’s money and then from the highest office in the land, swung a hammer into the league’s foundation.
If this didn’t call for a response, nothing would.
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