Reimer: President Donald Trump's incessant attacks on black athletes make it impossible to stick to sports

Alex Reimer
November 20, 2017 - 3:26 pm

Jeremy Long/Lebanon Daily News via USA TODAY NETWORK

There seems to be a “stick to sports” double-standard. When black athletes kneel during the national anthem to protest racial inequality, they’re castigated for bringing their politics onto the field. Alleged fans threaten to boycott the NFL and Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter even blames them for his putrid pizza sales. 

But yet, when the President of United States uses his bully pulpit to blast those same sports stars, the opportunistic pearl-clutchers are silent. To them, this apparently can only be an one-sided conversation. 

It’s obvious President Donald Trump uses divisive cultural issues to distract from unwanted political scandals and feed proverbial red meat to his dwindling base. That was apparent on that fateful September night in Alabama, when he called black players who protest the anthem “sons of bitches.” At that point, the kneeling movement was petering out. During Week 2, for example, only six players knelt or sat while the “Star-Spangled Banner” was being played. But in the week following Trump’s dogwhistle insult, the number exploded to more than 200.

Since then, it has usually hovered around a dozen. The one exception came Oct. 29, when many players on the Texans knelt for the anthem after it was reported that owner Bob McNair had seemingly referred to the league’s players as “inmates” during a conversation with commissioner Roger Goodell.

Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch is one of the few players who’s refused to stand for the anthem all season long. He continued this behavior Sunday, except he stood for the Mexican anthem –– while fiddling with his equipment, mind you. 

Trump, who’s tweeted incessantly about the anthem protests, admonished Lynch Monday morning. “Marshawn Lynch of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders stands for the Mexican Anthem and sits down to boos for our National Anthem,” the commander-in-chief said. “Great disrespect! Next time NFL should suspend him for remainder of season. Attendance and ratings way down.”

ESPN is often chastised for wading into politics, even adjusting its social media policy to include a warning about embroiling the network in “unwanted controversy.” The change was enacted after two controversies involving polarizing anchor Jemele Hill, who called Trump a “white supremacist” on Twitter and suggested Cowboys fans boycott the team’s sponsors due to owner Jerry Jones’ demand that players stand for the anthem. 

But Trump’s attack on Lynch shows the impossibility of sticking to sports. Lynch’s sitting isn’t a story on its own, since he’s been doing it for months. But now, the President has called for Lynch to be suspended for the rest of the year. ESPN must cover that story, and as a result, have its commentators opine on the commander-in-chief. 

Trump’s feud with LaVar Ball should be easier to ignore, since the two carnival-barkers stand for little besides inflating their own egos. Still, there’s something remarkable about the President saying he should have left three American citizens rotting in Chinese prison. Since those three Americans are also UCLA basketball players, Trump’s Twitter hissy fit qualifies as a sports story as well. 

Sports do not exist in their own separate universe. They’re part of American society, and with the president's penchant for blasting outspoken black sports stars, they’re increasingly part of politics as well. 

And the person to blame for that doesn’t put on a jersey or sit in a television studio in Bristol. He lives on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. 

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