Roger Goodell Responds to Trump by Not Responding to Trump
Last night at a campaign rally in Alabama, President Trump said NFL owners should fire players who take a knee in protest during the national anthem. Specifically: "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he's fired. He's fired!"
Nordstrom's. Hamilton. Meryl Streep. And in the past week alone Trump has gone after ESPN, the NBA, and the NFL. At The Loop, we've tried to keep our world separate from the political world, but we knew one day our turn would come to get sucked into the whirlwind that's consumed just about everything else. This is our time in the barrel. Luckily, there's good ol' Roger Goodell. Here's his official statement in response to Trump's comments:
Regardless of where you stand (or kneel) on the Kaepernick issue, whether you feel the insults or firing is merited (you're in the statistical minority ; and a great many armed service members -- active and veterans alike -- would disagree with you), we can agree on the objective facts that a) Trump insulted specific players for a specific reason; and b) Goodell's response had nothing to do with those things. The other "disrespect" (for the league, the game, and "its players" in general) is secondary.
And what about the league policy Trump raised: should NFL owners fire "son of a bitch" players who disrespect the national anthem? This isn't political. It falls 100% within Goodell's responsibilities as commissioner. He has a perfect opportunity here to make clear that this is not and will not be NFL policy, which, if the league is to remain as apolitical as Goodell wants, should be based on a player's ability to contribute on the field. There are exceptions for certain conduct and criminal behavior, but none of those is political.
We can understand, to an extent, why Goodell might be reluctant to get political, especially when it comes to speaking out against the President of the United States. We share his reluctance to politicize sports, especially these days. But Goodell's mugwump non-statement doesn't simply tiptoe a sensitive racially-charged political issue, it abandons the players Trump directly insulted, the players Goodell supposedly represents. At the very least he should have, and easily could have, defended the players Trump humiliated from the bully pulpit, and he could have done this without addressing the kneel issue at all.
Instead Goodell pivoted to exploit the terrible consequences of natural disasters, which is about the least divisive issue on the planet. He made a show of "taking the high road" and advocating for the good things the NFL and its players do. Again, though this is commendable, has nothing to do with Trump's specific line of attack. Would Goodell have issued this statement had Trump gone after players guilty of domestic abuse? No fucking way. Well, maybe. But we'd be more willing, as a society, to see through the commish's bullshit and call him out.
It's telling, too, that Goodell basically just pivoted from Colin Kaepernick to J.J. Watt. He could not have been more clear.
We won't dodge it, though: This is about race, period. Mr. Trump brought this on himself when he "both-sidesed" neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups who killed a protester at a Charlottesville rally. We have no problem saying Trump's response was insulting, and, as a human being, just an obviously horrible thing to say. That's not a political statement. That's just basic humanity. But Trump's words foregrounded, in a major way, the racial divide in America. In the last week Trump took a similar angle against ESPN as he did the NFL, advocating the network fire Jemele Hill, a contributor who on her personal Twitter called Trump a "white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with white supremacists." This morning he took to Twitter to "withdraw" Steph Curry's invitation to the White House after Curry said he wouldn't go. The Warriors say Trump hadn't invited them in the first place.
Why did Curry refuse to visit the White House? Racism, of course. Curry said his was "a statement that hopefully encourages unity, encourages us to appreciate what it means to be American and stand for something." And for this the President of the United States went after him directly.
Mr. Trump has since, on Twitter, doubled down on his "YOU'RE FIRED" remarks from last night. He also made the kneel issue about "deserving" millions of dollars. If you don't respect the flag, you shouldn't have the privilege of making the money you're worth? Or even a job? Football players are bodies. Their personal beliefs shouldn't matter, unless they're raising money. Last night Mr. Trump, demonstrating he fully understands Goodell's values, advocated that NFL fans should protest with their wallets: "Leave the stadium.... I guarantee things will stop."
He's right, you know -- but which fans will leave? And which "things" will stop?