It looked like it was going to happen before Labor Day, and then they acted like it already had. After a tailspin in the month of September, the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched their fifth consecutive National League West crown Friday night. But shortly before the Dodgers started popping champagne, and spraying beer all over each other in the clubhouse, the President of the United States gave a stupid speech in Alabama, sparking a firestorm both in and out of the world of sports.
Most people had forgotten about a former San Francisco quarterback who knelt during the national anthem—a view he felt was an adequate protest to racial inequality and social injustice. Many were not happy about it, but others understood. Other athletes occasionally followed, and the topic was batted about like a volleyball, mostly as a casual debate among fans. Sure, you may or may not approve, but it really wasn't a big deal. That is, until Donald Trump, for no real apparent reason, decided to make it one.
Trump didn't just call out Colin Kaepernick's actions of over a year ago. He, for whatever was going on in that head of his, decided to take on the entire National Football League, athletes of all major sports, and fans in general. In what has been described as a campaign rally (he was elected ten months ago), where he could get the adoring applause he craves, he said the following.
“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!'” Cheers, of course, from the invited guests that worship the ground he walks on.
Sunday morning, and probably now for several weeks to follow, networks will be showing the national anthem live from football games, only to show who is standing and who isn't. Many players decided to either stand in locked arms, or kneel as a group to protest the president. Some teams stayed in the locker room and avoided the anthem altogether.
Trump's actions have completely missed the point, and made things worse. He did the same thing with Kim Jong Un and North Korea when they threatened to detonate a hydrogen bomb. Telling North Korea that “they will be destroyed” is not how to avoid a war or nuclear conflict. Kim has taken the comment as a declaration of war, and who knows what will happen next? I've said this before, but Trump has illustrated it again. He's a combination of Marty McFly and Pee Wee Herman. No one calls him chicken, and if someone calls him a name, his retort is some version of 'I know you are, but what am I?'
Now here's something that may shock you. I share Mr. Trump's feelings about the national anthem. Players call it a right of free speech. It's not. Those players, while in uniform, represent the communities they play for, and the nation that afforded them the opportunity (and the money) to play (whether it's football, women's basketball, baseball, soccer, or whatever). Do you think if I went to a civic event in my radio station shirt, and knelt during the national anthem, or refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, I wouldn't be fired or at least reprimanded? Basketball superstar LeBron James called Trump a “bum” on Twitter. That's fine. Soft spoken Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors doesn't want to visit the White House now after winning the NBA championship. That's perfectly acceptable, and within his rights. Kneeling during the national anthem is considered a slap in the face by many veterans who served this country, and to others who have any kind of civic or national pride.
Let's also consider this. In some of the larger sporting events, there might be a couple dozen people on the field unfurling a giant American flag. What about them? Why should the poor anthem singer even take the microphone if he or she is being ignored? Since 9-11, the flag has also become a symbol of first responders, whose job it is to save lives, and run toward danger instead of away from it. What did those people do to deserve that kind of negative attention? Kaepernick originally knelt because black people were being shot by white police officers. Now, players are kneeling because the President of the United States called them 'sons of bitches' at a rally in Alabama.
NFL players aren't sons of bitches. Those who knelt during the anthem have real protests and concerns. They might be misdirected, but they are real. Getting a chance to yell 'you're fired' and get a huge ovation from people that already voted for you doesn't solve anything, and, as we've seen, has only made things worse. CBS and Fox opened their NFL coverage on Sunday with the screen split into several boxes like the intro to The Brady Bunch, so they could show live shots of all of the stadiums where the anthems were played. You don't think this is exploitation in any way?
Mr. Trump doesn't have any idea what the word 'restraint' means. Some are also saying he brought up the anthem issue to deflect attention away from health care or North Korea or the Russia investigation. Personally, I think that's giving him too much credit. He loves hearing his own voice, seeing his own name, and reveling in his own applause.
If I were running a team, I would tell my players, but not in a condescending way, that if you took a knee during the anthem, you wouldn't play. There are other ways of showing your anger, or taking a stand, but disrespecting people that aren't involved in your particular issue is not the way to do it. Wear an armband, carry a sign, refuse to vote Republican. All of those are better than making what is considered a display against the country that you were born in, and that you represent.
Baseball wasn't immune from this. One Oakland A's catcher took a knee during the anthem Saturday and got his name on the news, but it's avoided the spotlight for now. While most were getting caught up in football, the anthem scandal, and all things Trump and Twitter on Sunday, there was some baseball on TV. And the Dodgers even won, which makes it all the better.
Why do they play the anthem anyway?: We pondered the question on the air this morning about how the anthem tradition got started and why. After extensive research (i.e. Google), a Washington Post article came up, showing that the playing of The Star Spangled Banner dated back to the 1918 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox. World War I was going on at the time, and a sparse crowd in Boston started singing it at the seventh inning stretch. It was seen as a show of unity, because players then were thought of as soft because they were on a ball field instead of a battlefield. Seizing an opportunity, the owners of the Red Sox then started playing it before every home game. A funny postscript to that story, is that song didn't even become the national anthem until 1931.
Notebook: Since the wild card began in 1995, the Dodgers have only been the wild card team once (1996), but have now won 10 division titles in that time including five straight... With the Red Sox and Yankees both clinching post season spots this year, this marks the tenth time since the advent of the wild card that both teams made the playoffs. Only once (2014), did neither team qualify for the post-season... The Minnesota Twins can clinch a wild card berth Tuesday, and eliminate four teams in the process. If the Twins win at Cleveland, Texas, Tampa Bay, and Kansas City are out. An Angels loss at Chicago would end Mike Scioscia's quest for the playoffs, and clinch it for Minnesota... While the Dodgers won their 100th game tonight, the San Francisco Giants almost assured themselves that they will not lose that many. The Giants need one more win in five games to avoid the century mark in losses.
Survival Football: How about the Green Bay Packers, scoring with 17 seconds remaining in regulation, and then beating the Cincinnati Bengals in overtime? That means I survived another week. Having picked Carolina, New England, and Green Bay in the first three weeks, I'm going with Atlanta in Week 4 at home against Buffalo.
This horrible year continues. The Grass Valley area lost two great people over the weekend. Artist and philanthropist Peggy Levine died this morning after being diagnosed with Leukemia earlier this year. Not only was she well known throughout the community, but her husband Howard is the mayor of Grass Valley, and has been a great friend to me and the radio station where I work. Also, Toni Thompson passed away on Friday. She retired as director of the Food Bank of Nevada County less than a year ago, and organized our annual station turkey drive. Both were really giving people and always with a smile. They will be missed.