- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2017

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith has a warning for the National Football League: President Trump is “winning” an ongoing public relations debate with them.

Another weekend of national anthem protests by NFL players — punctuated by Vice President Mike Pence walking out during an Indianapolis Colts game — was the topic of conversation on Monday’s “First Take.” Mr. Smith looked into the camera and told NFL players and officials that Mr. Trump has controlled the debate, despite critics who claim otherwise.

“In the end, what it really, really comes down to is the president has successfully hijacked this issue, Mr. Smith said. “He’s turned it into an issue about patriotism and beyond.”

The ESPN host then said that Mr. Trump’s real motivation for calling out anthem protests is to exact revenge for failed attempts to gain a financial stake in the league.

“He’s catering to his base in the process, and the biggest thing he’s doing is he’s pulling it all off hiding behind these issues when in my opinion his real agenda is going at the NFL community that didn’t let him in that ‘good old boys’ club,” Mr. Smith said, The Daily Caller reported. “He is the one that’s winning because he’s turned this into something that the players didn’t intend to, so they’re going to have to find a different level, a different mechanism, to make their voices heard because Trump has won this round.”

The host’s warning comes in the wake of Mr. Pence’s decision on Sunday to leave Lucas Oil Stadium during protests by the San Francisco 49ers.

“I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem,” Mr. Pence tweeted.

All of the Colts’ players stood for the anthem.

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