BY Art Thiel 07:37PM 09/27/2017

Thiel: Sherman calls out Trump’s ‘wedge issue’

Seahawks’ Sherman laments Trump’s “we/them” effort to divide fans and NFL, while a Republican senator testifies in Congress Russian trolls are amping the anthem-protest issue.

Richard Sherman offered an all-inclusive perspective to the national debate Wednesday. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Before the anthem protest controversy goes nuclear — oops, bad choice of words — becomes the beast that consumes the NFL, CB Richard Sherman had an observation Wednesday that offered some clarity regarding consequences of President Trump’s unprovoked interjection that suddenly has him wrapped around the NFL’s axle.

“We’re trying to make people understand that this world and this country is for everybody — we’re all American,” Sherman said regarding the protesting players’ agenda. “Sometimes our president gets into the we-and-them kind of conversations. Sometimes you wonder, who is we and who is them?

“This time, he was talking regarding NFL players. When you’re president and you’re talking about fellow Americans, you always have to say we, or you become divisive. When your supporters continue to press that rhetoric, and then they say others are divisive because they reacted to that,  you get to the problems we have today.”

If you look around the cultural landscape, Sherman is right. Trump used the unfiltered bullhorn of his Twitter presidency to inflame an old issue, the flag’s gnarly American dichotomy as a symbol of rebellion as well as patriotism.

Conflict over the flag’s meaning pre-dates the Trump presidency and will survive it. But in this time of polarization, the Trump bump gave the issue remarkable reach and depth. Potentially, we have:

Fans vs. fans in the stands

Players vs. players in the locker room

Franchises’ long-term financial interests vs. players’ shorter-term human interests

Television viewers vs. network coverage

Sportswriters vs. readers

Kids vs. parents

And on and on . . .

In political terms, Trump has deployed a tactic called a wedge issue, meaning a topic that is used to “drive a wedge” between people that would otherwise agree on many things (12s and Seahawks, for example), which can either distract, or gather supporters from one side to another, or both.

Trump fueled the fire again Wednesday, telling reporters that if the league didn’t put a stop to the protests, the business of the NFL would go to hell.

The anthem protest as a wedge issue is working. So much so that Russian hackers, of the same ilk that infiltrated the the 2016 presidential election, have entered the fray, according to Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma Wednesday at a hearing on Capitol Hill of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

An Associated Press story quoted Lankford, a member of the Senate intelligence committee and privy to information on Russian tactics testifying that troll farms were using Twitter hashtags  #takeaknee and #boycott NFL to amp up the controversy:

“They were taking both sides of the argument this past weekend, and pushing them out from their troll farms as much as they could to try to just raise the noise level in America and to make a big issue seem like an even bigger issue.”

Why? According to Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who helped create a website that tracks Russian propaganda on social media, the Russian trolls seek to disrupt.

Although Watts told AP he can’t say with certainty about the degree of influence, the trolls’ efforts would be consistent with other documented propaganda campaigns that originated in Russia, such as the use of Facebook to push messages for and against the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The goal is to sow division in America,” Watts said. “They’ll use organic American content to amplify to American audiences. They would much rather use organic American content. It hits the audience better and it’s cheaper and more effective.

“The Russians can just sit back and say: ‘Amplify on both sides. Make people angry.’ And it works, man, God, it works.”

There’s nothing more organic in America than football and the flag. So if you have been stirred by the protests, Trump’s retorts and the players’ response, you have been played.

Whether Seahawks coach Pete Carroll understands the finer points of this trolling, he knows two things.

The 1-2 Seahawks have a certain urgency attending their home game Sunday against the 1-2 Indianapolis Colts, a 13-point underdog, and they have to deliver more focus than they had in the mistake-filled, 33-27 loss in Tennessee, The game was preceded by difficult, emotional meetings Saturday deciding how to respond to Trump’s denigrations.

“I think that last week was about making a statement and I think, moving forward, it’s about making a difference,” he said. “Our players sense that, our coaches sense that. We’d really like to focus and make sure football is really at hand and that we are doing everything we can.  We did last week as well, with another issue to deal with (the Trump tweets).

“I know we already feel like (this week) is different. There is nothing lost in the sincerity of the statements that were made. Nothing lost in the willingness to make a difference as we move forward. But it is really important for all of us.  We feel it. Everybody wants to really do everything we can to make sure the games that we play are going to be played the best we can possibly play them.”

Carroll was indirectly conceding the obvious: Trump’s trolling took a toll on a team that is very socially conscious. It’s not an excuse, but one among several reasons that the Seahawks were subpar.

It’s also why Carroll took pains to create a unified protest, which really was little more than an avoidance of the potential for disruption. With little time for anything more, the Seahawks’ staying inside for the anthem was the most useful way to help restore a 53-man “we,” as Sherman put it,  and let “them” sort it out.


  • 1coolguy

    The major reason the Hawks lost was the temp and humidity – they never experience these on the West coast and to go into 88 degree temps (are those 100 on the field?) and high humidity is an absolute killer. It is a clear competitive advantage for the home team. It was proven by the stout defense played in the first half, then the eventual unraveling in the second half. On the long runs, the players were out of position and caught a step behind – the Hawks never play like that. The political issue had zero, nothing to do with the outcome, as again, the evidence is how well they played in the first half, when they were still fresh.

    • art thiel

      Glad you’re certain about so much. coolguy. With his remarks at the end of the column, Carroll as much as acknowledged the Saturday meetings were a drain and a distraction.

      • 1coolguy

        In his interview in the Brock and Salk show Monday, he said that did not affect the game and both teams dealt with it. So yes, I have my opinion and yes, I suggest it was the weather – are you saying in the second half suddenly the Hawks were playing slow and out of position because they expended energy on the Trump issue? Come on Art, you are smarter than that.

    • DJ

      Coolguy – I respect your opinion, but I know for a fact that discussing emotional issues takes a toll on you physically. Heck, I was exhausted and could barely stand after 8 hours of sitting at a desk taking a professional exam – the brain is a huge energy drain. We have a limited view of what their discussions of Saturday entailed for duration, but I can imagine it was drawn out and intense at times – too soon before the game not to have an impact on their energy levels.
      As for the conditions of the game, certainly impacts, but now a days pro teams know how to anticipate and deal with that – plus both teams were equally subject to them.
      Looking forward to the Hawks somehow righting the ship!….yet another interesting Seahawks saga

  • twistandturns

    Oh well, guess sports and politics are tied together now.

    • art thiel

      Actually, that happened when the Olympics were revived in 1896. But it’s good that you’re on board.

  • disqus_aEA4p3zFXu

    Wow. I did not know this. So evil and so effective. Right out of a movie!

    • art thiel

      Would that it were a movie.

  • ss

    Gnarly, indeed, dude. The best of times or the worst of times it is. “Just win, baby.”

    • art thiel

      Three non-sequitors in a row. Well done.

      • ss

        It feels great to be appreciated. Thanks! On to the task of not being stirred by the protests, Trump’s retorts and the player’s response. Let the First Amendment reign.

  • Stephen Pitell

    Well, off to find out what’s being reported about this in the news. This is practically a Pearl Harbor moment it seems to me.

    • art thiel

      I think I might take it down a notch or three.

      • disqus_0fotImVld4

        I should go back and read your opening–wasn’t it Trump who called Kappernick (sp?) a “son of a bitch?” Of course, I don’t expect anyone will suggest Trump should “tone it down…” It’s really hard for me not to call our noble president the names I would like to call him. How about a detestable, worthless pig?

    • Steed

      The US government has known about Russian interference going back to at least summer 2016 during the presidential campaign.

      THAT was your Pearl Harbor moment, and Republicans like Mitch McConnel refused to cooperate with the Obama administration in formulating a public response, since they thought it might hurt their candidates chances.

      Yes, Republican party leadership refused to cooperate with responding to the Russian interference, because they cared more about the campaign than what the Russians were doing to our country.

  • Tman

    take away a couple of bogus calls in each game and the hawks are 3 and 0 after playing bad. Imagine what it might be like when they play good.

    • art thiel

      The same can be said for 80 percent of all NFL outcomes. Which is part of why we like the game.

  • tor5

    I have to hand it to the Russians. They know our vulnerabilities: race, patriotic symbols, and limited ability to discern reality from internet clickbait. I’d say Trump/Russians have met their match with thoughtful and articulate NFL players like Sherm, but I’ve learned that that waaay overestimates the general public’s attention and critical thinking. Still, goodness will prevail in the end. While we lose our collective minds on occasion, future presidents will not send inflammatory tweets with multiple explanation points, people won’t be fired for silent, peaceful political expressions, and truth and science will matter again. …Right?!

    • Steed

      I just want to go back to having a President that doesn’t sound and act like a 12 year internet troll.

    • art thiel

      The more we are divided, the more intolerant we become, the more likely there will be violence, and the more likely we will succumb to authoritarian rule. The Russians have been working this playbook for years.

      But it is not too late.

  • John C. Morris

    Russian foreign policy and Seahawks football….only you Art can effectively bridge those story lines. Thanks for helping us better understand the larger/more important context from which we are watching this game being played.

    • art thiel

      I doubt I’m the only one, because there are 30 cities with NFL teams, all of which are being played as we are in Seattle and can see what I see. At least I hope they can see it.

  • WestCoastBias79

    I can’t decide whether POTUS is a brilliant wag the dog type manipulator of media to distract, or an idiot bloviator. Neither is good.

    • tor5

      He’s an idiot wag the dog type bloviator. But it works, and that’s on us.