There’s a lunatic in Asia credibly threatening the world with a hydrogen bomb. Congress can’t pull itself together to do anything. But enough of that. We’re all obsessed now with what a few tubby athletes think about the flag, the national anthem and the country others have shed blood and lives to defend and protect.
Is this a weird and wonderful country, or what? The answer is yes, but some of us are weirder and less wonderful than others.
President Trump, who has never had a thought he thought was too trivial to express, is taking time out from leading the free world to pick a fight with a few overpaid athletes, uneducated and proud of it, over a triviality.
The president, who has done some good things, can’t abandon his trivialities. Nothing could be more trivial than the political opinions of pituitary freaks who run up and down the field in garish clown suits, administering head and body shots to break each others’ skulls and bones.
Mr. Trump calls for a boycott of the National Football League — the “National Felons League,” some call it in honor of the many players who over the years have cultivated intimate relations with the law.
The president’s ire is understandable. Most Americans are irritated, some are disgusted, with the deportment of the players, and few are persuaded that these students of the perspiring arts (as my favorite sage of the sports pages artfully puts it) don’t know, exactly, what they’re making such a fuss about. An unemployed quarterback, unable to get a job on any of the league’s teams, started the fad of “taking a knee” a year ago to protest the oppression of black folks in a nation of deplorables and irredeemables. But since most of the kneelers are millionaires several times over, that explanation fell flat, and now the kneelers have expanded their protest to protesting to protect the right of protest.
“Taking a knee” is an odd gesture, actually, by someone protesting oppression. “Taking a knee” is a gesture of submission, originally a token of religious faith, and not all kneelers are renowned for their piety. Indeed, President Trump calls them sons of lady dogs, which, to be fair, is not the kind of language usually heard in locker rooms, where players often refer to their colleagues as men with deep, deep (though unusual) affection for their mothers.
Gestures are important in the National Football League. Odell Beckham Jr., a wide receiver of the New York Giants, celebrated his first touchdown of the season on Sunday by dragging his feet across the end zone, walking stiffly like a dog on all fours, then lifting his leg and pretending to wet the grass. “I’m a dog,” Mr. Beckham Jr. said, “so I acted like a dog. I don’t know if the rule book said you can’t hike your leg.” He learned that apparently the rule book does say that, because the referee threw a flag and penalized him 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The kneelers seem to be protesting racism as well as encouraging appreciation for the right to protest, and what’s striking so far is how the kneeling demonstrates the sharp racial divide on the teams. Nearly all the kneelers are black. Most white players have stood tall with their hands over their hearts.
Tom Brady, the quarterback of the Boston Patriots who supported Mr. Trump for president a year ago, stood on Sunday with one arm intertwined with the arm of Phillip Dorsett, a wide receiver of color, and the other hand over his heart. Though a stand-up guy, Mr. Brady says he wanted to show “there’s just a great love for my teammates.”
“I mean, we go through a lot together,” and, reprising Winston Churchill’s most famous call to arms in Britain of World War II, said “there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears. I don’t think it’s easy to play this sport. I mean, there’s a lot of guys that sacrifice a lot.” Just as at Omaha Beach, or at Iwo Jima, or the Super Bowl. He even posted a photograph of himself with one of his running backs, which he captioned “Strength. Passion. Love. Brotherhood. Team. Unity.” And other good stuff.
The president could have left the punishment of the league to the fans. Sunday Night Football took a ratings hit two nights ago, down 9 percent from the previous Sunday, and down 11 percent from the comparable game last year.
Not only that, but baseball, the thinking man’s game that was once the national pastime, is coming back in fervent favor. Baseball doesn’t have many felons, and next month’s World Series promises to be a great one. But one obsession at a time, please.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.