BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 06/07/2018

Thiel: Trump moves goalposts on NFL owners

The Eagles and Trump telling each other to drop dead is no way to run a sport or a country. The president needs to learn the difference between dissent and disloyalty.

If Justin Britt and others want to protest during the national anthem, the NFL wants them to do it in private.  / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Much in the manner of his peers among the heels of pro wrestling, Donald Trump finds an injury in an opponent and ruthlessly pounds away at it until the script calls for a weepy submission from the vanquished. And he’ll still toss the loser over the turnbuckle and onto the floor.

That’s where the NFL owners find themselves these days.

But the cold concrete nap looks like it might be a real coma.

The decision by many Eagles players to snub the traditional White House salute for NFL champions, quickly followed this week by the president’s “disinvitation” to the event, inflamed anew the divisive issue of the propriety of social-issues protests during the anthem.

Despite the fact that players who knelt or gestured did nothing to disrupt the anthem, the game nor the belligerent drunks in close seats profanely taunting the players, lots of football fans didn’t like it, which is all the president needed to aggravate and agitate, per his custom.

The recent decision by owners to require players to be “respectful” of the flag on the sideline, or else stay in the locker room — teams would be fined if players protested on the field — was a futile attempt at appeasement, the fourth misstep in a string of miscalculations that has put the NFL in the crosshairs of the the uproarious fight that the nation is having with itself.

While Trump initially hailed the owners’ nonsensical decision to hide the protesters as a win for him, this week he tweeted a taunt ahead of Monday’s silly replacement ceremony for the Eagles’ no-show: “no escaping to Locker Rooms!”

To deploy a cultural expression taken from football to describe inconsistent decision-making, Trump moved the goalposts.

If Trump is not satisfied with the NFL’s awkward attempt to find a middle ground, that means almost no one will be happy.

Numerous team owners, including the Seahawks’ Paul Allen, offered on social media their support of criticism by players who rejected  the proposed sideline separation. That  made commissioner Roger Goodell look the fool for saying there was a unanimous vote.

Most players who have spoken during the off-season were unhappy with the decision and the process, including Seahawks LT Duane Brown.

“I don’t like it,” Brown said after practice Monday. “I think it’s dismissive. I don’t think it’s ever properly been acknowledged there (were no players) consulted with or talked to about the matter.

“We are still discussing it to see how we are going to handle it as a team. But I don’t agree with it at all.”

Given the self-inflicted nature of the series of wounds, and the delight the president seems to take in afflicting the NFL, there’s no indication of a workaround that will let the toxicity fade — as long as Trump remains in office.

The history:

In 2009, the NFL asked, but did not require, players to take the field before the anthem in prime-time games, as they had been doing for regular games (the change was prompted by network TV’s broadcast-timing needs).

The NFL also wanted to wrap itself more tightly with the government and military.

The league subsequently began receiving marketing revenue from the Department of Defense for “paid patriotism” salutes, which included color guards, flags the size of Rhode Island, and flyovers of Air Force might. It was as if getting a military band to play the anthem louder correlated to some sort superior show of patriotism.

While no evidence emerged of a direct link between the attendance request and the sales pitch, by May 2016, the league had been shamed into refunding $723,724 from the DOD to taxpayers, funds that it said “may have been mistakenly applied to appreciation activities rather than recruitment efforts” during the years in question.

In 2011, during negotiations that created the current collective bargaining agreement, the owners and the players union were silent regarding sideline behavior during the anthem. That was not the case for the NBA and its union, which bargained away its right to protest social issues on the court.

Then in 2014, Trump very much wanted to be an owner in the NFL, an organization he battled 30 years earlier as an owner of a team in an upstart rival, the United States Football League. The USFL soon went out of business, thanks in part to misjudgments by Trump.

He still wanted in on the football action. After bidding $1 billion to buy the Buffalo Bills, Trump plotted to thwart a rival group led by rocker Jon Bon Jovi, who wanted to move the team to his native Canada. To discredit the bid, Trump used tactics by now familiar to many Americans, outlined in this GQ story.

Bon Jovi’s group went away, but Trump lost out to locals Terry and Kim Pegula, who paid $1.4 billion. Trump was sufficiently peeved to issue a typically petulant tweet:

The Bills made the playoffs in 2017.

Think about that bid outcome for a minute: Had Trump succeeded in grabbing the NFL platform to fill his rapacious need for self-aggrandizement, he may not have decided to run for office. He still would be driving the NFL bats, but most of the rest of the world would be sleeping better.

To summarize, Goodell and some NFL owners set themselves up for this quagmire with decisions that betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the role that peaceful protest has played in advancing the values championed in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence (“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”) and the Pledge of Allegiance (“liberty and justice for all”).

Perhaps no one explained the situation better than famed journalist Edward R. Murrow. In 1954, amid the McCarthy red-scare drama that has parallels to today’s fear-driven swerve to authoritarianism, Murrow said:

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is  not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember than we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

NFL players who protest are breaking no laws. They act not out of fear, but of out of conviction and reason. They do not seek the popular course, but a just one.

They do not disrespect the military. Their protest is no more about the flag than Rosa Parks’ decision to sit in front was a complaint about the bus, or the colonial Americans’ decision in 1773 was a complaint about the tea in Boston.

NFL players are dissenting. The only disloyalty in this drama comes from a man repelled by the notion that much of American eminence came from its ability to prosper from dissent.


  • cadrethree

    If you want to make a difference the players are going about it wrong, unless they are looking for a handout. Take your millions and move back to the neighborhoods you came from. Get involved in local politics, police and other community services donating your time and money. Start business and hire at risk youths and underemployed people from your communities. Making a difference starts with one person.

  • coug73

    Two thumbs up and well stated Mr. Thiel.

    • art thiel


  • rosetta_stoned

    Not one word on the Husky women’s run to the championship series in the WCWS.
    Not a single mention of the UW men’s first appearance in a super regional.
    Nothing about UW crew at Nationals, spring football practices or the Mariner’s charge to first place in the AL West.

    But now we have our third story in the last two weeks on this stupid Anthem nonsense. This time, about a team that’s closer to Nova Scotia than it is the northwest.

    It’s not It’s
    And it’s pathetic.

    And btw, Art … comparing Rosa Parks to a workplace dispute is shameful. But that’s what I’ve come to expect.

    • Ron

      Is that you Donald Jay? It sure sounds like the kind of crap we hear from our “white trash president” as Tom Arnold recently pointed out. Calling the anthem protests “nonsense” is the kind of intolerance that we come to expect from white trash. You will be much happier reading Fox News, the “destructive propaganda machine” as a former analyst there put it. No need for a brain there.

    • tor5

      So, when the president (who dodged the draft, insults Gold Star families, says captured soldiers aren’t heroes, and claims avoiding STDs was his “personal Vietnam”) condemns athletes for their lack of “patriotism,” it is dismissed as a “workplace dispute.” But if Art writes about it, he is being shameful and pathetic.

      • art thiel

        The pain from his bone spurs is immense and clouds his judgment.

    • Alan Harrison

      Oh, my, but you are out of touch. Art’s presentation of the facts (Remember facts? Real facts?) is not only NOT left wing, but the vast majority of Americans agree with it. Check your right wing at the door, little Rosanne. Kneeling because of injustice is peaceful dissent and it’s legal. That’s why the fine would be on the owners and not the players – fining workers in a union contract for legal, peaceful discourse would be illegal. And the Rosa Parks comparison is totally apt – Gandhi wasn’t protesting food when he went on a hunger strike, either. But that would be a brown point of view in your blue eyes, I’ll bet. Now simmer down.

      • Effzee

        *boom* (mic dropped)

    • Effzee

      And yet, you keep coming back for more. Just because you don’t agree with it doesn’t make it left wing propaganda. Today’s extremists are all alike. To the social justice warrior left wing anti-fa crowd, anything to the right of them might as well be Hitler. To the racist alt-right maniacs, anything to their left might as well be Marx. The divide and conquer tactics of the establishment mainstream media are working to perfection. We are being duped into thinking the enemy is each other, and the status quo prevails. I’m fully on board with draining the swamp, just as long as Trump is the last one down the drain, after the Bush’s, Clinton’s, and the rest of the cabal who have hijacked the country for the past century.

    • art thiel

      Good to see a faithful reader scour the the site’s time line to help straighten me out editorially. Because you stay anonymous, I can’t tell if you’re a voluntary contributor to the site. But I expect your concern is causing you to donate a lot, in order to help fund coverage of more sports.

      And it’s wonderful to see you champion the civil rights work of Rosa Parks, I would have guessed you didn’t know who she was. Please keep surprising me.

  • Matt Kite

    Whether you agree with Trump’s position or not, his public condemnation of the players isn’t designed to help the NFL or guide the teams to a workable solution. The controversy is just a toy for him — a “winning” issue with his base that he can use to perpetuate his toxic brand. That the NFL owners thought they could appease Trump shows how little they’ve learned since Jan. 2016. Trump is all about Trump, and anybody who jumps on the Trump train, whether loyal sycophant, slimy opportunist, or pragmatic statesman, gets burned in the end. The world is his reality TV show, and Trump’s gonna Trump.

    • woofer

      This is the real point. Trump doesn’t give a hoot about the NFL or the flag or the military or any other symbolism beyond its capacity to stir up his right wing base. This is pure racist politics. In this age of spectacular excess the NFL may well boast the highest paid slaves in world history; Trump just wants to remind them who they really are. You can bet this kind of garbage would never get flung at pro golfers or tennis players.

      • Matt Kite

        Excellent point. Naked racism, in the era of Trump, is the new patriotism. Edit: Well, maybe not new, considering our history.

      • art thiel

        Nothing else pulls ratings like the NFL. That’s why it matters to Trump, who succeeded at one thing in his business life — reality TV. It’s reality TV and the prism through which he sees the world. And he can tell 32 guys who would shun him as a cretin to drop dead.

        • Mícheál Mac Cionnaith

          Please don’t ever stop telling it how it is, Art. At times, I don’t know whether to be upset with Lord Commander Marmalade or, instead, the people who know better but have been duped by him.

          • art thiel

            In some ways, we’re all a little complicit, neglecting our democracy to the point where this kind of infection sets in.

            Trump’s career is about undermining law, not upholding it.

    • art thiel

      I think we all understand Trump’s motives. It’s the NFL owners who are the adults lacking the courage to stand up to him.

  • Husky73

    Art— one of your very best. Thank you.

  • dingle

    Be warned: foul language. Might not be suitable for some workplaces, depending on how oppressive your IT department is.

  • jafabian

    IMO, if the NFL and the POTUS didn’t address the anthem controversy if would have quietly died down this season. If the NFL stood by its players after the Eagles visit to the White House was canceled most of its fans and advertisers would have supported them. Sadly the purpose of the stance is getting lost and becoming more of means of giving the finger to other parties. Opening Day should be interesting.

    • art thiel

      Agreed on the die-down. Players know their careers are short.

  • Kirkland

    If you’re an owner, do you want to be seen as supporting your employees (players) or customers (fans)? That’s the corner Trump helped paint the owners into.

    • art thiel

      That is how he and Putin work: Find ways to split people to help thwart organized resistance.

  • John M

    Gotta say, Art, terrific assemblage of facts, quotes and thoughtful discourse so succinct it’s still sinking in. Thanks . . .

    • art thiel

      Thanks, John.

  • Sam Base

    I’m so tired of giant flags. The first time I saw one I thought it was cool. But when you’ve seen a thousand of anything it ceases to be cool and becomes background noise. And I’m so tired of the Star Spangled Banner, sports fans like us hear it with an almost nauseating frequency. Save the giant flags exclusively for the 4th of July. And save the Star Spangled Banner exclusively for national holidays and gold medals at the Olympics.