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Monday, September 25, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Who knew keeping sports out of politics was the next frontier?

That’s usually a non-issue (aside from proposed stadium deals), primarily relegated to elected officials’ friendly wagers on big games between their home teams. In a Ravens-Saints Super Bowl, for instance, Baltimore’s mayor might put up crab cakes against gumbo from New Orleans’ mayor.


The only controversy in such instances is how many staffers from the victorious City Hall can partake of the scrumptious meal.

Times were much simpler back then, last week, before President Trump unleased on NFL and NBA players who take issue with the current state of affairs.

Want to protest during the national anthem? You should be fired! Want to vote on visiting the White House? You’re no longer invited!

President Trump’s tirades over the weekend mixed politics and sports like no else can. Colin Kaepernick lit the fuse but the White House dropped the bomb. The Golden State Warriors were mulling their celebration at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but Trump’s preemptive strike electrified the tradition.

Religion and politics supposedly are off-limit subjects in polite company. Trump has added sports to the list of third-rail topics that inspire raging debates.

There’s no turning back now, not after Trump used a profanity Friday to describe athletes who protest during the national anthem. He encouraged fans to walk out if even one player kneels. “I guarantee things will stop,” he said. “Things will stop. Just pick up and leave.”

Actually, the issue had died down already.

Kaepernick remains unemployed and his prospects of a resurrected NFL career are uncertain. A few players had continued to protest — notably Seattle’s Michael Bennett, whose run-in with Las Vegas police highlighted his reasons — but we no longer fixated on team-by-team running tallies.

The pre-game national anthem had returned to normal, a rote obscurity that takes place during TV commercials.

But Trump re-ignited it anew, drawing sharp responses from the NFL, owners and players.

It’s amusing that so many owners — 30 by my count — issued statements in opposition of Trump. I wonder how many have side businesses that peddle bovine excrement.

Browns owner Jimmy Haslem said “we will continue to encourage our players to respectfully use their earned platform to inspire positive change in our nation and throughout society.” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said “we recognize our players’ influence. We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent.” Bills owner Terry Pegula said “our players have the freedom to express themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner.”

So those owners and others say they won’t fire a player who protests.

They just won’t hire one, either, because Kaepernick would be on a roster otherwise.

While some sports fans have lamented politics being mixed into their games, highlights and analysis, Trump has picked his spots to manipulate the combination. In March he told a Kentucky audience that NFL owners are scared they’ll get a nasty tweet from @realDonaldTrump if they signed Kaepernick. In August Trump told a radio host that Kaepernick “should find a country that works better for him.”

In the Warriors’ case, POTUS didn’t fan a dying flame. He gathered kindling and started his own blaze. Since taking office, he has hosted champions such as the Patriots, the Chicago Cubs and the NCAA’s Clemson Tigers. But several of Golden State’s officials and players have been vocal critics of the president, leading to speculation that the team might not visit.

That wouldn’t have been the worst thing. When you send out invitations and ask for RSVPs, the choices usually are “accepts with pleasure” and “declines with regrets.” You understand that some invitees, for whatever, will check the latter box.

But rescinding the invitation before receiving the reply isn’t a good look. Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry, whose stated intention to vote “no” likely led to the withdrawal, called the experience “surreal.

“I don’t know why he feels the need to target certain individuals rather than others,” Curry told reporters. “I have an idea why, but it’s kind of beneath the leader of a country to go that route. It’s not what leaders do.”

The views of Warriors coach Steve Kerr have been well-publicized and not favorable toward Trump. But he was willing to make another visit. “I think we would, in normal times, easily be able to set aside political views, and go visit and have a great time,” he told reporters.

“But these are not ordinary times. Probably the most divisive times in my life, I guess, since Vietnam, when I was a kid.”

Chalk this up as another lost cause. This time it’s a politician’s foray into a sports world that, supposedly, should stay out of politics.

Too late.

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.


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