- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 1, 2017

The clash over the take-a-knee protest isn’t over yet, judging from what happened Sunday at the early NFL game in London.

President Trump turned up the pressure late Saturday with a tweet calling it “very important” for players to stand for the national anthem, and while most players did, three Miami Dolphins knelt during the anthem, then stood for “God Save the Queen,” DolphinsWire reported.

Two of the three players — receiver Kenny Stills and safety Michael Thomas — were among those taking knees during the 2016 season in a show of protest. The third player was tight end Julius Thomas, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

That was fewer than the six Dolphins who took a knee last weekend after the president suggested that players who did so should be fired.

The rest of the Dolphins stood on Sunday for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” sung by Darius Rucker, while the New Orleans Saints knelt as a team before the playing of the anthem, then stood and linked arms for both the U.S. and British anthems.

The president’s tweet came with the NFL reeling from a fan backlash after about 200 players knelt or sat instead of standing last weekend during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

At Thursday’s game between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, none of the players took a knee. Instead, they linked arms and stood for the flag in what was seen as a sign of things to come.

For example, the Los Angeles Chargers announced Friday after a team meeting that players would stand and link arms during the national anthem, even though several sat or knelt the previous week in a rebuke to Mr. Trump.

New England Patriots player Danny Amendola said that he believed the team would stand on Sunday for the national anthem.

“My understanding [is] I think we’re all going to stand, but you know, it’s not Sunday yet,” Mr. Amendola told the Boston Globe.

The president’s latest tweet raised the stakes as well as questions about whether some players would react by taking a knee in defiance of the White House, despite polls showing that the protest has hurt the NFL.

A Morning Consult tracking poll found that the NFL’s net favorability plummeted from 30 to 17 percent between Sept. 21-28, falling to the lowest level since the company began following the brand.

A Fox News poll released Thursday found that 55 percent of registered voters surveyed agreed that the protest was “inappropriate,” while a plurality — 49 percent — of adults told CNN/SSRS that players were doing “the wrong thing.”

Some fans have posted videos showing them burning their NFL jerseys, hats and even tickets in reaction to the protest.

Political consultant Scott Jennings, a former special assistant to President George W. Bush, said the issue has become a winner for Mr. Trump, who suggested last week that team owners should fire players who refused to stand for the flag.

“People don’t take kindly to not standing for the National Anthem in all the places Trump and the Republicans need to win in 2018 and 2020,” Mr. Jennings said in a CNN op-ed. “Trump couldn’t care less if people in urban areas, where Republicans have no hope of competing anyway, are upset with his strident, colorfully communicated views.”

The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway said that the NFL “can’t afford the struggle,” given the league’s recent slide in the ratings.

“For many people, in part because of the vagueness of the protest goals, these national anthem knees simply come off like people being jerks about the national anthem because they don’t like Trump,” she said in an op-ed. “Which, it turns out, is not a great way to get the public on one’s side.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell pushed back in a Sept. 23 statement against the president’s criticism of the take-a-knee protest.

“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities,” Mr. Goodell said.

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