I watched the Bears game yesterday, on purpose, for the first time in a few years.
My enthusiasm for NFL football has waned of late due to what I saw as its reluctance to give players adequate consequences for violence against women as well as its willful blindness towards player brain injuries. I'm not really a ride-or-die football person, so this was an easy choice, but with two boys in the house who are plenty rambunctious on their own I wasn't necessarily trying to encourage them to get into a sport where the subtle messages are "your body and other people's bodies are less important than entertainment" so it was easy to keep the TV off on Sundays.
Then Donald Trump decided to weigh in on football this weekend. He may claim that he wasn't talking about race, but to my ears he was sending some pretty clear, disturbing messages when he criticized players who show any sign of protest against the national anthem and also complained about the safety measures the league has enacted over the years. He sounded like a Roman emperor whining that the gladiators fighting are behaving more like humans than slaves, and that it's not so much fun for him when they're allowed to fight back against the lions in the pit. The combined messages of "These guys should just shut up" AND "It's not as much fun for me when they can't smash each other up to the extent of brain damage" did have something to do with race, even if he didn't think so. To me it sounded more like "Why can't these boys just keep their mouths shut and entertain us." The days of celebrities not talking about current events (and often being awful people in their own private time) are so far behind us that if you gripe that athletes should just shut up and do their job, you might as well just watch old VHS tapes of games because you just aren't likely to enjoy the current real world very much.
Don't get it twisted: the NFL, and all other sports leagues, are businesses first. There are very few businesses in America that get by on a message of being anti-American, and the American sports world has done a great job of building itself up as some sort of patriotic event with messages of unity and giving back to the troops. But the act of playing a game has nothing to do with being an American citizen or respecting the country. They play sports in other countries too, after all. If the NFL got fined for every time a network showed the flag or the veterans or America it'd get pretty apolitical pretty fast.
I, like the President, have never served my country in a military capacity but I strongly disagree that to question politics in a sports realm is somehow disrespectful to those who have served our country. Isn't it more American to use your freedom of speech than to feel that it's more American to never question? My brother, unlike the President, is an actual veteran who has served our country. I asked him what it feels like to observe people protesting the flag or the anthem and he replied "Not a big fan of jingoism or idolatry. I'd much prefer people work to improve the country than using flag worship to pretend they're patriots."
I have always wondered what would happen if the sports world had to confront the political world -- if you're on Twitter you see that sports will dominate just about any topic, and typically in a non-political way. Now we're finding out.
Keeping in mind that the NFL (and the NBA and the MLB and NHL and all the rest) is a business first, I'm not going to pretend that supporting the NFL is some sort of act of political bravery on my part. But since the President is so obsessed with ratings, like a middle school girl obsessed with who gets the most likes on Instagram, yesterday I did the only thing I cared to do to show what I thought about him and his attempts to paint professional athletes as somehow anti-American for doing something that is 100% within their American rights to do -- I put on the TV and Beared down.