- - Thursday, October 12, 2017

You know, the NFL could solve this whole national anthem controversy pretty easily.

They could simply get their players out of the patriotism business.

I get it’s been good for the NFL, with the Defense Department, which, according to a 2015 Senate oversight report had spent more than $10 million on marketing and advertising with pro sports teams — particularly NFL teams.

And I don’t blame the Defense Department for spending that money. If you are trying to win over the hearts and minds of young men — and women — you, like every other advertiser, want to do business with the NFL.

But it’s become clear now that the juice isn’t worth the squeezing anymore.

Whatever the reasons were for the NFL and the Defense Department to get into the patriotism business together, those reasons have been drowned by the debate over players kneeling in protest during the playing of the national anthem before the start of NFL games.

The hammer dropped by President Donald Trump criticizing those protests has crushed any message both the Defense Department was trying to send to the public and also any message the protestors have been trying to send to that same public.

Nobody is sure anymore why they are kneeling — or standing. So it may be time to simply keep the players inside the locker room during the playing of the national anthem — where they can stand, kneel, scream, or whatever they want to do while outside the fans in the stands can do what they have been doing for years — standing for the national anthem.

The issue doesn’t seem to be going away, in large part because Trump won’t drop the ball.

Initially, when Trump jumped on this issue several weeks ago, it was likely a political win for him — most polls showed that a significant amount of the public were turned off by the anthem kneeling protests. The message players were trying to deliver — a protest against racism and injustice — was not being heard. Since then, Trump has hijacked the whole concept of anthem protests and made it one of his Twitter rallying cries.

He has continued to push, citing an NFL game day operations manual that reportedly states, “The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem. During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking.”

Trump, who has demanded that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell force players to stand for the national anthem, also reportedly called Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to cite to him the game day operations manual involving the anthem. Jones has said any player who “disrespects the flag” will not play.

But a league spokesman said Wednesday that the NFL has no plans to force players to stand for the national anthem. In fact, the league and the NFL Players Association have a meeting scheduled for next week during the league meetings to talk about the anthem issue — whatever that issue is, at this point.

“Commissioner Roger Goodell reached out to NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith today and both he and player leadership will attend the League meetings next week,” the league said in a press release. “There has been no change in the current policy regarding the anthem. The agenda will be a continuation of how to make progress on the important social issues that players have vocalized. Everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military, and we are coming together to deal with these issues in a civil and constructive way.”

Privately, both sides will likely be saying — how do we get Trump to move on? He might want to pay attention to the canary in the coal mine — conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who suggested that the president indeed move on in a recent radio broadcast.

“There’s a part of this story that’s starting to make me nervous, and it’s this: I am very uncomfortable with the president of the United States being able to dictate the behavior and power of anybody,” Limbaugh said. “That’s not where this should be coming from.

“Trump is continually tweeting — I know what he’s doing, and I understand why he’s doing it, and his motives are pure; don’t misunderstand,” Limbaugh said. “But I don’t think that it is useful or helpful for any employee anywhere to be forced to do something because the government says they must.”

Everyone seems to want President Trump to take a knee in the end zone when it comes to taking a knee for the national anthem — or else the league may take one when it comes to displays of patriotism.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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