With the fall and another election season upon us, the one thing we can count on is a renewal of Donald Trump’s war on football. This has become an annual tradition for the president, one that showcases his true political talent—that is, his almost uncanny ability to align his own resentments and fantasies with those of his followers.
“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 asked a crowd in Huntsville, Alabama, seemingly out of the blue last September. Pausing while the crowd responded with chants of “USA! USA!” Trump then rambled into a longer, extemporized disquisition, sending out simultaneously a warning and an encouragement to mayhem, as is his wont:
You know, some owner’s going to do that. He’s going to say, “That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired” . . . that’s a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect of everything . . . we stand for.
The “total disrespect of everything we stand for” was, of course, the protest against social inequality and particularly the police treatment of African Americans that some National Football League players had been making by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before each game. The protest had been started, virtually alone, by Colin Kaepernick, then the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, back in the late summer of 2016.