President Donald Trump continued his almost daily social media commentary on the National Football League and the issue of player protests implying that NFL Commissioner is demanding that players stand for the anthem.
Each week, USA TODAY’s OnPolitics blog takes a look at how media from the left and the right reacted to a political news story, giving liberals and conservatives a peek into the other’s media bubble.
This week, liberal media voices admitted reluctant defeat in the war over NFL players’ national anthem protests. The issue had been slowly simmering since former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem before a game last year to protest racial injustice and police brutality. President Trump brought it to a boil last month when he said team owners should fire players who refuse to stand and he has continued to hammer at the protests in speeches and on social media.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter Tuesday to all 32 teams that said players “should stand” during the national anthem, leading Trump and conservative media voices to declare victory in the great anthem debate.
From the left: Trump’s ‘war on black athletes has nothing to do with sports’
Salon politics writer Chauncey DeVega said Trump’s demand that NFL players stand for the national anthem is part of a larger strategy to “inflame supporters by ginning up white racial animus towards ‘disloyal’ and ‘unpatriotic’ black and brown Americans.”
DeVega called Vice President Pence a “lazy racist” and said his walkout at the Colts game Sunday after several 49er players knelt for the anthem was a “stunt” meant to show “his displeasure towards ‘uppity’ black football players.”
Despite “widespread criticism of Trump in the media,” his “white racial resentment strategy is largely working, at least when it comes to the NFL anthem protests,” DeVega wrote. And he believes it’s working “because it connects white patriotism and white nationalism to white racism — without him needing to make the connection overt or explicit.”
From the right: In war against Trump, NFL suffers ‘total and utter defeat’
The president went too far in calling for kneeling players to be fired, but the NFL lost as soon as it took the bait and “went on the freedom of speech bit” in defending the players, Vespa said.
Citing declining ratings and ticket sales, Vespa said fans were turning away because they believe the protests disrespect the flag.
“Free speech matters, but it’s irrelevant here, as is any issue these players were trying to highlight,” Vespa said. “When you come off as an unpatriotic piece of crap, everything you stand for suffers. Period.”
From the left: Trump winning his ‘little culture war’ — and Americans are the losers
“Since he has accomplished absolutely nothing substantive during his time in the White House, Donald Trump has made it his mission to get the country and NFL on his side about the issue of standing during the national anthem,” wrote Daily Kos‘ Kelly Macias.
By “speaking and tweeting ad nauseam about unpatriotic black football players taking a knee, as well as owners needing to crack down on their action,” Trump succeeded in rallying his base and eventually NFL owners to his side, Macias said. He “applied enough pressure that a private employer is now capitulating to his wishes.”
Trump is playing a game with all of us. Sadly, he’s winning his unnecessary, mad little culture war and our country—and all of us Americans—are the losers.
From the right: Trump’s NFL stance is ‘starting to make me nervous’
It’s no surprise that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh thinks the protesting players are disrespecting the anthem, the flag, the cops and the military. But he also expressed fears that Trump is leading America toward a slippery slope by using the power of the presidency to demand the NFL force players to stand for the anthem.
Limbaugh stressed that he thinks Trump’s “motives are pure” but he said he doesn’t “think that it is useful or helpful for any employee anywhere to be forced to do something because the government says they must. That scares hell out of me.”
Limbaugh believes Trump’s intervention worked though.
“I don’t care how you slice it, it constitutes a Trump win,” Limbaugh said. “I’m not so sure that if Trump had not applied pressure, that they would have changed.”
From the left: ‘Colin Kaepernick is a martyr’
Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson said in an interview with Democracy Now! that the NFL player protests are “not flag desecration” but are about “using the symbol as a gesture.” Jackson said Trump and Pence are not reacting to players disrespecting the flag but actually “protesting their right to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
Jackson defended the players, whom some have attacked as spoiled multimillionaires, saying they come from campuses under a form of “apartheid” and that “they’ve gone from picking cotton balls to picking footballs, but not really growing.”
“Colin Kaepernick is a martyr, by virtue of his suffering, and he deserves the right, even now, to try out for teams,” Jackson said, comparing Kaepernick to other black athletes like Jackie Robinson who fought for racial justice.
From the right: ‘Go to another country and play football’
Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka said he doesn’t believe “football is the stage for protest” in an interview Monday. Ditka said he was not “condemning anybody or criticizing anybody” but went on to say, “If you don’t respect our country, then you shouldn’t be in this country playing football. Go to another country and play football.”
Ditka went even further, questioning the protesting players’ assertion that racial injustice is a problem in America.
“I don’t see it,” Ditka said. “You’ve got to look at a person for what he is, and what he stands for, and how he produces, not by the color of his skin. That has never had anything to do with anything. But all of the sudden it’s become a big deal now about oppression. There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of.”
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