Trump vs. the NFL: Who Wins? America

“_______  became popular with many Americans because of a glorification of America being the greatest country on earth, some boorishness, violence, rude, unrefined speech, and a lack of tact. And strength. Strength, strength, strength, supposedly.”

Now, is the above a description of Donald Trump? Or the NFL? This is why the two sides being at war may be the best thing to ever happen to America. A league that profits massively off its tax-free status while feigning patriotism (while actually charging military organizations to have “support the troops” nights at its shows games) is now in a deadlock versus a president who largely got elected to deliver on the national stage what they’ve offered television viewers as a product.

And the results are already glorious. Last week the NFL had to refund over $200 million in lost revenue for ad money. And Trump shows no signs of letting up, attacking the league with a ferocity usually restricted to media outlets. And the NFL is in a bad position. Here’s why.

On the surface, both sides are in fact right and wrong: like it or not, the NFL is right that its players have a right to protest the national anthem. But as a private organization it gives its players that right, so an appeal to the constitution is futile. Likewise Trump, like it or not, is right that a nation’s flag should be respected, and long-standing custom asks that Americans stand for the national anthem (yes, 100 years is long-standing custom.) But as the legal leader of the American people, he knows that the NFL doesn’t have to demand that its players stand. So there’s little more he can do than tweet.

But the tweeting is bad enough news for the NFL, because the NFL’s sole calculated image has been based upon pure, unabashed patriotism– even to the point of ridiculous jingoism– for over 40 years. Anyone remember the flick Born on the Fourth of July? The NFL is trapped in a “Ron Kovic” position– defending peaceful activism as an American duty– except it lacks the moral high ground of actually serving the country. 

Protest can be very American, but it often looks like subversion because it often is. And if anything, that is probably why Roger Goodell is going to be crying in his drink every waking hour of the coming weeks: thanks to President Trump, the NFL is forced to not be itself. It’s forced to admit it’s exactly NOT what most Americans project patriotism and strength onto. It’s forced to take off all the red, white and blue coloring, all the explosions and pretense of “supporting the troops,” and show itself for what it is: just a game. A long, commercial-laden game.

But if the NFL thinks its carefully cultivated base of the past 40 years– a base committed to red meat, guys hitting stuff, and MURICA) is just going to go along when the President (and one big on flags, patriotism, and all the other stuff the NFL loved to pretend it was about) tells them to pick up their kneeling players for the national anthem, they’re in for a painful shock. Because as much as celebrities wish you could just fire the president, the reality is Trump is going to be there for four long years.

And by then, most of that ‘Murica-lovin, uberpatriotic base– the ones that buy most of the tickets and watch most of the games– will have already changed the channel.