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Donald Trump got people to care about the NFL again

Members of the Cleveland Browns take a knee during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Indianapolis, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump did the unthinkable: unite rivals across the sports world against him and got people to care about the NFL again.

On Friday in a campaign rally for Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) in Huntsville, Alabama, Trump addressed the ongoing protests where some NFL players take a knee during the national anthem, inspired by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!'” Trump said to the crowd. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, “That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.” And that owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in this country.”

On Saturday, President Trump further clarified on Twitter, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

During the first two weeks of the NFL season, television ratings were down and declining at an alarming rate. Football fans from across the spectrum were protesting because of how the NFL and team owners handled the protest and subsequent job hunt of Kaepernick. The NFL’s right-wing audience boycotted them for allegedly condoning Kaepernick’s protest against the American flag and national anthem. Meanwhile, liberals boycotted the sport because they felt NFL owners were racist for not signing Kaepernick after his protest.

As a sports fan, I actually enjoy when politics gets mixed into the game. It adds an element that makes it more enticing and fun to watch. If a player injects their political opinion into the current discourse, some feel obligated to either root for or against that player.

Many others think that politics is saturated into every aspect of our culture. There’s no escape. Yet, President Trump got people to care about the NFL again. Anything he attacks turns to gold.

NFL teams are now protesting and boycotting the national anthem en masse. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, and Tennesee Titans completely skipped the national anthem altogether. Even Trump’s good friend, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, released a statement saying he was “deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President.”

Taking a knee during the national anthem may be perceived as disrespectful to the flag or to the men and women in uniform who sacrificed their lives for this country, but it’s a form of expression. Now, Trump finds himself on a slippery slope where he’s publicly incensed by views different from his own.

Of course, professional athletes are protected by the First Amendment to speak or express themselves however they want without fear of retribution taken by the government. It’s dangerous that the President of the United States is attempting to weigh in on the matters of a private company and how they should run their business. It’s similar criticism that Trump gave former President Barack Obama in 2013 regarding the naming of the Washington Redskins.

Trump was right in 2013, but he’s wrong in 2017. There are far greater matters that he should be concerned with than what some socially active professional athletes choose to do while on the job.

If Trump were half as focused and passionate on repealing and replacing Obamacare, passing tax reform, or even building the wall than he is on professional athletes taking a knee during the national anthem, think of what he could’ve been able to accomplish. And if he were half as vigilant in condemning white supremacists as he is with NFL (and NBA) players, then there wouldn’t be a chorus of accusations that he, too, is a white supremacist.

The days of holding our collective breaths for Trump to become “presidential” have passed long ago, but it’s time to move on. Americans deserve better than this.

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