I’m going to make a political prediction here just so that I will have to admit it when it turns out I was wrong…
It seems to me that Our Orange Overlord has just played the NFL in exactly the way he has been playing the news media and other liberal-dominated institutions for the past year — and that the NFL players and owners have proved that they have learned precisely nothing from watching Triple-O deliberately push liberal buttons for the express purpose of getting them to discredit themselves in the eyes of, and indeed thoroughly to alienate, literally tens of millions of ordinarily apolitical people.
In the following analysis I am not endorsing either side, merely analyzing the political efficacy of the behavior of the parties involved.
Consider the following points:
1. The overwhelming majority of people in this country do NOT want politics to infest every area of life, and very strongly want their sports to be politics-free.
2. The overwhelming majority of people in this country do NOT consider showing respect for the national anthem and flag to be a political statement; they consider it to be a deliberate setting aside of political differences for a limited time so that everybody can just enjoy some football.
3. The current controversy began when a rather mediocre quarterback whose effectiveness had been greatly exaggerated by the skills of an exceptional coach, and whose effectiveness had so badly degraded as soon as that coach left that he found himself quickly benched, chose to draw attention to himself by using the national anthem as a means to inject partisan politics into an arena that most sports fans saw as one of the last refuges from partisan politics. Furthermore he chose to do so in the most offensive way he could think of, and to do so in order to condemn the U.S. as r-a-a-c-i-s-t and to condemn the police in particular as violent and murderous, with a very broad brush. And remember that it wasn’t just sitting for the national anthem — there were numerous other despicable (in the eyes of a probable majority of football fans) actions that were clearly motivated by stereotype-based hatred, such as wearing socks depicting the police as pigs.
4. On top of this, the sports media culture instantly stopped talking about football and insisted on talking about nothing but Kaepernick Kaepernick Kaepernick r-a-a-a-c-i-s-m effectively 24/7 — and overwhelmingly talked as though this jerk (as most sports fans considered him to be) was some kind of hero, thereby greatly compounding the frustration of the majority of America’s sports fans.
5. On top of THIS, the sports media culture piled insult on top of injury by openly making it clear that if you thought Kaepernick should be in any way penalized for his “protest,” this was proof that you were…and here everybody in America who is to anywhere to the right of JFK rolls their eyes because they know what is coming…r-a-a-a-c-i-s-t!
6. Note that the single biggest reason that Our Orange Overload is now President, is that fact that tens of millions of America voters — and specifically tens of millions of American voters who on a Venn diagram would also make up a big whopping percentage of the circle labelled “sports fans” — got tired of being called “r-a-a-a-c-i-s-t!” every time they tried to voice doubts about leftist policies or disapproval of leftist behavior.
7. Note also that the kind of people who are shamelessly willing to label a hundred million or so of their fellow Americans “deplorables” and “racists” and “white supremacists” and “hate-speechers,” and who therefore rushed to Kaeperneck’s defense, are overwhelmingly people who suffer from full-blown Trump Derangement Syndrome and react to pretty much anything Trump tweets as though he had just said, “Managed to capture a couple of Jewish children today; they should make great lampshades” — and that every time such people grotesquely over-react to a Trump tweet that non-political Americans in general don’t think is particularly unreasonable, they remind millions of swing voters that they, the swing voters, are hated and despised by precisely the sorts of people who hate and despise Donald Trump.
8. Furthermore there is surely not a single sports fan in America who doubts that if a WHITE football player were to use the NFL field as a platform to make a statement that liberals disagreed with, the same sportscasters and talking heads who have so self-righteously and endlessly talked about the importance of freedom of speech, would instantly and without shame demand that said player be instantly and permanently and forever banned from the game. For example, imagine if a player were to sit for the national anthem and announce that he was ashamed to be a part of a country whose political establishment refused openly to admit that black people commit murders at ten times the rate other ethnic minorities do, which he claimed as proof that the country was run by people who didn’t care a bit about the lives of innocent black people, who when they are murdered are overwhelmingly murdered by black criminals, and who are murdered at an obscenely higher rate than are the members of any other ethnic group. Does anybody doubt for a moment that ESPN’s staff would unanimously denounce him as a “white supremacist,” demand that he be driven forever from the field, and repeat approximately sixty times an hour the (completely false) mantra, “Free speech does not apply to hate speech” (which most people outside the liberal bubble have long since figured out means, “Free speech does not apply to the speech of people whom we liberals hate”)? More importantly, if Trump were to denounce him and call for his firing, are there very many people who think the entire Pittsburgh Steelers team would refuse to come out of the locker room during the national anthem in order to “avoid making a political statement”? (I actually think that’s possible but I don’t think many other people would agree with me.)
9. At least half the sports fans in America would whole-heartedly approve if the NFL were to say, “No matter what your political views, they stay off the football field, and while we will not take any disciplinary action against you if you offend people by what you say publicly on your own time and your own social media platforms, you WILL show respect while the national anthem is played in our stadiums, and any NFL game at which you choose to disrespect the national anthem will be an NFL game in which you do not participate.” I imagine you would actually get more than a two-thirds’ majority of the people who pony up the money that makes the NFL possible, and that pays the salary of NFL players who actually do nothing of value to earn that money other than make the customers’ lives more pleasant, to support such a policy. In other words, a solid majority of America’s football fans probably think that Donald Trump’s opinion about what the NFL should do is a lot more sensible, and a whole lot less offensive, than what Donald Trump’s critics in the NFL have actually been doing.
10. The NFL has seen a VERY significant drop in attendance and revenues since the whole Kaepernick debacle started, and anybody who thinks that isn’t in large part because millions of sports fans despise the way the NFL has handled the situation, is deluding himself. And you know who else I think is deluding himself? Anybody who thinks that the majority of people who disapprove of the NFL’s behavior and who are intensely annoyed by the forcible intrusion of political statements into their Sunday afternoon entertainment time, have already quit watching. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think there are millions and millions of fans who have been offended and upset, but who love football so much that what the NFL has done so far hasn’t quite honked them off enough to make them walk. In other words, there’s a great big slice of the fan base that hasn’t gone yet but is not in a mood to put up with much more.
10. The Orange One understands everything I have just said.
So — just as he has been doing for months — Donald Trump has taken a position that he knows is generally perceived, outside of the liberal bubble, as being a reasonable, but non-liberal, position on some controversial issue. In this case he has taken a position that most non-liberals will consider to be more or less reasonable on precisely the behavior of NFL players and associated sports figures that a majority of sports fans find offensive and intensely annoying. Having chosen his troll bait, he has then exaggerated it slightly, as is his wont, in order to make the targets of his trolling more likely to overreact (most people would probably support suspension rather than firing, but would think that Trump’s general idea was basically a good one in need of fine-tuning, which is where “seriously but not literally” comes into play). And then he has used his Twitter account to say, “Here, fishie, fishie.”
Now, at this point, if the NFL had ANY SENSE WHATSOEVER, it would simply IGNORE the President. The NFL had an easy win handed to them on a platter — all they had to do was shrug and say in as bored a tone of voice as they could manage, “Hey, the dude has his opinion, and if he manages to buy an NFL team then he’ll get a vote. Does anybody have a question about, you know, football?”
But, no — the league, and far more importantly the PLAYERS of the league, promptly lost their minds. Taking the perspective of millions of heretofore loyal, but generally patriotic and non-liberal, NFL fans: Colin Kaeperneck outright slanders the overwhelming majority of the men and women of this country who daily put their lives on the line to protect the innocent, including the innocent black people who are overwhelmingly the victims of black crime…and the vast majority of the NFL’s players are like, “Whatever, dude.” President Trump tweets out something that half the people who make possible the lavish lifestyles of professional NFL players think is pretty much reasonable and comes pretty close to what somebody ought to be saying — and THREE ENTIRE TEAMS get their panties so tightly wadded they are in danger of creating their own personal-sized black holes and actually REFUSE TO COME OUT FOR THE NATIONAL ANTHEM AT ALL, while most of the rest of the players do their little arm-link stunt. In other words, the players go out of their way to make it clear that they are happy to put up with an open and shameless cop-hater, but they HATE Donald Trump, and presumably those who support him or even agree with him, with the heat of a thousand suns. And they use the national anthem to make that over-the-top, blatantly political statement.
(I should say here that I am sure that not all the players who linked arms meant to express disapproval of Trump, and in the case of the Steelers and the Seahawks at least, the intention of staying off the field entirely during the national anthem was to avoid making a political statement at all, so that I think they are guilty not of Trump-hatred, but simply of an astonishing inability to understand how their actions were likely to be perceived. Remember that my point is to predict how millions of fans who are sick of seeing players do anything at the national anthem other than show respect for the flag are likely to interpret the players’ actions, not to give my own opinion of the players’ actual motives and character. Still, it is undeniable that when Kaepernick started his antics, most players saw no need to rush to America’s defense, while the moment Trump criticized the protestors, suddenly practically every player in the league felt this urgent need to show “solidarity.” How can the players possibly think that this can make any impression other than they are far more loyal to each other than they are to their country?)
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anybody who was as good at taunting his enemies into unintentionally blowing their own brains out as Trump. I am not saying that this is an ADMIRABLE skill, only (a) that it is a politically useful one, (b) that Trump has it down to an art form, and (c) that not even His Orangeness, probably, could have imagined that the NFL players would take the bait to this astonishingly suicidal degree.
My prediction is that NFL viewership is about to crater. My prediction is that HUGE numbers of fans have just said, “That’s it; @#@#$@ all of you @#@$@s.” I think the NFL’s players just alienated half of the NFL fan base, perhaps irretrievably. (Remember how long it took major league baseball to recover from the 1994 players’ strike? Fans are used to hating owners; but once they start despising the players it’s Katie bar the door.) And I don’t think they have the slightest idea of how much they have just screwed themselves.
And of course I may be completely wrong, in which case I will laugh at myself at the end of the year — and the main point of this post is to remind myself to do so. We naturally remember every time we have ever been right and conveniently forget all the times we’ve been wrong. If I turn out to be wrong this time, this blog post won’t let me forget.
PREDICTION: the slide in ratings and attendance between now and the end of the year will be greater than the slide in ratings and attendance from the beginning of Kaepernick’s protests up through last Thursday night.
PREDICTIVE COROLLARY: Trump will use the phrase “Bad ratings!” in at least fifty triumphant tweets between now and then.
ADDITIONAL PREDICTIVE COROLLARY: At least some of the people who chose to refuse even to be on the field for the national anthem will accuse Trump of being “divisive,” and at least some of the people who habitually use the terms “white supremacist,” “fascist,” and “racist” to mean “white person who does not vote like I do,” will complain bitterly that Trump has used “inflammatory rhetoric” and has “normalized hatred.”
Now we wait and see whether I was right. When the final ratings and revenue numbers come out at the end of the year I’ll post the results.
P.S. ESPN has no intention of interrupting its determined, slow-motion corporate seppuku. Today there were half-a-dozen thrilling games with great story lines. Tom Brady produced another magical comeback. Aaron Rodgers threw a seventy-seven yard pass to win in overtime. The Lions appeared to have completed yet another last-minute comeback on a touchdown pass on the last play of the game, only to lose when the touchdown was overturned on review. And a rookie kicker gave the Eagles a victory over the Giants with a walk-off sixty-one yard field goal.
So, naturally, here were the first eight stories on the ESPN NFL home page a few minutes ago:
“How the player who wasn’t there [Kaepernick, obviously] won the day”
“What NFL players, coaches are saying about protests”
“Images of protest: NFL players describe Sunday”
“NFL players who protested during the national anthem in Week 3”
“‘Hopefully it’s not a one-week thing’: Malcolm Jenkins [protestor] on what happens now”
“Locked arms, kneeling dominate NFL anthems”
“Understand why the national anthem is a protest, every time it’s sung”
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you your “sports” network. Oddly, its viewing audience is rapidly becoming what Ian Faith would call “more selective.”
P.P.S. You are not going to find a town more liberal than Boston, nor a team more beloved by its fans than the Patriots…but watch the video and listen to the fans’ reaction to the Patriots actions during the national anthem.