OPINION COLUMNS

Fans drawn offsides by wrong issue

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, September 30, 2017
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The trick play worked again last weekend.

The quarterback gave a play fake and got everyone to bite on the action in the backfield, while ignoring what was going on down field.

Richard Greene

Richard Greene

The quarterback in this instance was President Donald Trump calling out NFL players and their peaceful protests during the national anthem to distract attention from the private jets for cabinet members, email scandals for family members or the slow response to help a devastated U.S. territory in the wake of a massive hurricane.

What’s an easier way to draw people offsides than pitting the visual of veterans, troops, the flag and the Star-Spangled Banner against perceived out-of-touch, grandstanding millionaires? Though the player that began the movement, Colin Kaepernick was far from out of touch, backing up his beliefs with donations to various causes and trying to bring attention to a very important race issues that continue to plague our country. For it, he’s currently out of a job.

Along with Trump publicly calling for the firing of players for their freedom of expression and calling them far from a term of endearment, he tried to paint a picture of the NFL failing and ratings dropping – which isn’t a reality. Ratings were actually up over the weekend. The NFL has also had the top rated program every week this football season, dwarfing the audience for anything else on TV.

It did draw some sharp criticisms of NFL players from fans threatening to quit watching. “Why bring politics into sports? It’s our escape from the everyday struggles,” was a common refrain.

But sports and politics have never been separate, even as far back as the indigenous tribes of America. It’s why we hailed Jesse Owens for his performance in Berlin. It’s why all baseball players wear No. 42 for one day a season. And it’s really the reason why anyone cared about a bunch of college kids performing a miracle in 1980.

People also voiced on social media that they don’t want to hear from these players on issues. But it was OK a few weeks earlier for J.J. Watt to use his fame to raise $37 million for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. It’s OK for past NFL Man of the Year Jason Witten to speak out and run a foundation for victims of domestic violence. In other words, only speak on issues with which we agree.

There were also some calls for boycotts over this. But this brings up another question. Is this really where the line is drawn? What about many men having their lives shortened due to traumatic brain injuries and CTE? Why did no one draw a line over the domestic violence incidents of Ray Rice or Greg Hardy? Instead, players trying to bring attention to an issue to help make a better country is what pushed some viewers over the edge.

While the trick play worked for a weekend, ultimately it should be as successful as another time Trump challenged the NFL. How’s the USFL doing?

Richard Greene is sports editor of the Messenger.

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