Tomase: Donald Trump just took a swing at NFL and NBA -- here's hoping they swing back

John Tomase
September 23, 2017 - 1:31 pm
Donald Trump and the Patriots.

Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports

My pals in the morning, Gerry and Kirk, suggest that I suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome. I prefer to think of it as Trump Reality Syndrome, wherein the president's actions enrage on their own merits, no embellishment required. Every time he opens his mouth or his Twitter account, even the most rational pragmatists among us reflexively go fetal.

When it comes to politics, many of you would prefer a separation of church and state, so to speak. You probably wish I'd stick to sports. Unfortunately, the last 24 hours have made that impossible.

In the span of one Alabama rally and then a follow-up tweet on Saturday morning, Trump tackled three sports-related issues with his breathtaking superfecta of insecurity, bigotry, narcissism and ignorance.

First, he called on NFL owners to fire any "son of a bitch" who kneels during the national anthem. Then he ridiculed a crackdown on concussions for ruining football. Finally, on Saturday, he disinvited Steph Curry and the NBA champion Golden State Warriors from the traditional White House visit before they could decline.

With one bellicose belch, Trump highlighted his various moral failures in a noxious cloud of hate and anger that is unique to his debased, dysfunctional presidency. If politics aren't your thing, let the above examples get you up to speed as Trump (a) tramples the Constitution, (b) dismisses science, (c) inflames white grievance, and (d) reiterates his desperate need for loyalty.

We've never been more partisanly divided as a country, a mindset that may actually have its genesis in sports, where there's Us, there's Them, and then there's Our Most Hated Rival. It's Auburn if you're Alabama. It's the Yankees if you're the Red Sox. It's Liverpool if you're Manchester United. This thinking can flip Johnny Damon from folk hero to villain or transmute Ray Allen into Judas Shuttlesworth simply because each swapped some laundry.

Trump has exploited this pick-a-side divide along predictably demagogic lines since gliding down that Trump Tower escalator and decrying Mexican rapists in 2015, and he was in rare form on Friday and Saturday.

He held Friday's rally ostensibly to endorse the Senatorial candidacy of Luther Strange, who's locked in a death struggle with former activist judge Roy Moore for the Republican nomination to fill the seat vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions. Whatever the pretense, it should surprise no one that the gathering quickly morphed into a glorification of all things Trump, who never misses an opportunity to bathe in adulation while taking sniper shots at his enemies.

On Saturday, one of them was former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, even if Trump didn't mention him by name.

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired,'" Trump bellowed. "You know, some owner is going to do that. He's going to say, 'That guy that disrespects our flag, he's fired.' And that owner, they don't know it [but] they'll be the most popular person in this country."

Trump has been jingoistically wrapping himself in the flag since he announced his candidacy. I'm being quite serious when I ask if he's even aware of the First Amendment's freedom of expression protections. Unlike the taxes he has admitted trying to dodge, there are no free-speech loopholes.

NFL players reacted with galvanizing anger, and it will be fascinating to see how many of them have the courage to challenge their president head-on this weekend. Patriots safety Devin McCourty noted the hypocrisy of being criticized for skipping the White House, but then being expected to keep quiet over being called a bunch of SOBs.

The unstated subtext of Trump's comments, of course, concerns black men in America not knowing their place. That he would criticize NFL players at an effectively all-white Republican rally in the deep south isn't an accident. Forget about dog whistles; that sound is shrill enough to signal the end of Fred Flinstone's workday.

But Trump's ignorance runs deeper. Within the same speech, he derided the wussification of the NFL, noting that an increased focus on player safety has made the game namby-pambier. "Today, if you hit too hard, 15 yards, throw him out of the game," Trump huffed. "They're ruining the game, right? They're ruining the game."

Trump's broadside came a day after Boston University researchers revealed that deceased Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez had the worst case of CTE they had ever recorded in a 27-year-old. The science connecting NFL concussions to brain damage grows stronger by the day. But science has never interested Trump, which is why he's got a climate denier running the EPA and wants a conservative talk show host to be the chief scientist at the USDA.

Trump reflexively dismisses the opinions of experts because he believes in "common sense" and his gut. That kind of thinking not only eventually produces a string of Category 5 hurricanes rampaging across the Atlantic, it's also going to lead to more Junior Seaus shooting themselves through the heart so science can study what the hell happened to their brains. But Trump, who in so many ways seems stuck in the 1980s, misses the days when Joe Theismann could watch Lawrence Taylor match-stick his leg in year-end highlight videos.

Back then, Trump ruled the tabloids. Today, his narcissism knows no bounds. On Saturday, he preemptively tweeted that if Steph Curry didn't want to visit the White House, Trump would take his ball and lock the gates at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

"Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team," Trump whined. "Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore (sic) invitation is withdrawn!"

During the civil rights movement, we saw the very real impact athletes could have on social change, whether it was Tommie Smith raising a fist in a black power salute at the 1968 Olympics or Muhammad Ali conscientiously objecting to the Vietnam War.

The fate of the unemployed Kaepernick stands as a cautionary tale about the repercussions of athletic activism in today's political climate. But it also speaks to the power of sports to speak truth to power. NFL players are pissed off. The Warriors are right there with them. Now would be a good time for all of them to take a stand.

Perhaps it can start on Sunday with the taking of knees.