Trump scores a win in the culture war as NFL seeks to ensure players stand for national anthem

 In Sports
Three weeks ago, President Trump was widely criticized for fanning racial divisions and inflaming the culture wars after he denounced a black NFL player for kneeling during the national anthem, casting the move as unpatriotic and an affront to the country.

The player had intended the demonstration to call attention to police brutality against African Americans.

What began as an impromptu, crowd-pleasing line at a Trump rally in Huntsville, Ala., to “get that son of a bitch off the field right now!” sparked a national debate over free speech, patriotism, racial identity and cultural values. Rather than back off and try to unify the nation, Trump upped the ante relentlessly — and on Tuesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell capitulated.

Concerned about backlash from fans, Goodell sent a letter Tuesday to all 32 team owners asking them to support a plan to “move past this controversy” and ensure that players stand during the anthem “to honor our flag and our country.”

Goodell’s letter was leaked publicly just hours after Trump again had taken to Twitter to bash the nation’s most profitable sports league for “disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country” and threaten to revoke its tax breaks, which a White House aide later defined as public subsidies for sports stadiums. Last weekend, in what appeared to be a preplanned act, Vice President Pence walked out of a game between his hometown Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers after several of the 49ers players knelt during the anthem.

The Fix’s Eugene Scott explores the vocabulary that President Trump uses to refer to his supporters. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

To Trump and his supporters, the outcome Tuesday amounted to a clear-cut political victory — and validation of the president’s tactics.

“We would certainly support the NFL coming out and asking players to stand, just as the president has done,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said when asked about Goodell’s letter. “We support the national anthem, the flag and the men and women who fought to defend it, and our position hasn’t changed on that front. We’re glad to see the NFL taking positive steps in that direction.”

In his letter, Goodell stated that the dispute over the anthem “is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game.” Television ratings have declined this season, alarming the league’s advertisers, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones this week warned he would bench players if they do not stand at attention.

Goodell said a plan would be put forward during the NFL’s annual fall owners’ meeting this weekend. It remains unclear, however, whether players and team owners will abide by the commissioner’s wishes.

Trump had been criticized by a wide array of Democrats, professional athletes and media pundits for focusing on the anthem issue after he first raised it during the raucous rally in Huntsville in late September.

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