We learned this week that Seahawks Defensive End Michael Bennett was among the co-authors of a well-reasoned, respectful letter to the NFL seeking a partnership for an awareness month on social justice.
Congratulations to Bennett and his NFL colleagues. It worked. Awareness is suddenly global. Just not in the civil fashion they intended.
Of his own reckless volition, President Donald Trump Friday finally crisped Twitter's #sticktosports hashtag by wading into a pool of oil with his oral flamethrower, publicly calling Bennett a son of bitch for his protest of the national anthem.
Said Trump to loud applause at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired.'"
After profanely castigating peaceful political dissent by NFL players, Trump suggested owners were negligent for not punishing them, and told fans to throw away their ticket money by walking out of games if players protest. Then, just for kicks, he encouraged more head-knocking violence despite all sports and the military having accepted the medical science explaining traumatic brain injury, and through his own insatiable vanity, mis-characterized the drop in NFL TV ratings.
For a leader focused on failing on North Korea, failing on health care, failing on climate change, failing on Iran and failing to stop Russia's war on the American political system, it is remarkable that he had time to fail the one prominent U.S. industry that is reliant on inclusiveness and diversity for its success — major spectator pro sports.
The NFL workforce is 70 percent African American. The NBA is about 90 percent. Major league baseball is dominated by players of Latino heritage. South Korean golfers nearly own the LPGA tour. As white as the National Hockey League is, it needs green-card owners from Europe nearly as much as Major League Soccer needs them from around the world in the most popular sport of all.
Trump's red-meat panderings to a crowd of his no-matter-what supporters did almost nothing to move the needle for him, but they inflamed many fans as well as participants, who, with limited success, have been attempting to keep their eyes on the ball.
The rant provoked a predictable social-media firestorm that will probably have a physical embellishment Sunday when NFL players decide how to respond at stadiums across the country. Here's Bennett's response:
Seahawks Cornerback Richard Sherman offered this in a Saturday morning tweet:
Even Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has a seventh-degree black belt in tut-tutting, had to clear his throat:
"The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we've experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities."
Using the word "unfortunate" was insipid, but Goodell walks a tight rope. Eight of his bosses, the team owners, donated $7.25 million to Trump's inauguration. Three threw in $1 million apiece: Jerry Jones of Dallas, Robert Kraft of New England and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, whom Trump named ambassador to the United Kingdom.
Obviously, they're entitled to support any politician, but Trump's pointless interjection has roiled many in the owners' labor force, potentially to distraction.
None of the owners are so foolish to attempt to halt free expression. But now the disruption has amped the intensity to the point where it can divide teams and fans in the stands, and stimulate boycotts on both sides. Trump's rant implicitly permits his supporters to become agitators, and forces coaches and front-office staffs to devote time to managing the fallout.
Certainly some fans will put teams and NFL sponsors on notice: Where do you stand on Trump's sports condemnations? Imagine how the owners see their investment in Trump now.
If African Americans don't seek redress of grievances on a stage where they have great influence, where do they go? If Bennett doesn't take action after he is pinned and handcuffed, for no good reason, to a Las Vegas sidewalk with a cop's firearm pointed to his head, what does he do?
Fired? This isn't a lame reality-TV show, but Trump keeps playing the presidency as one because he has zero awareness of, or concern over, anyone or anything that does not generate ardor for him.
A peaceful, silent anthem gesture has no measure of disrespect compared with Trump's desecration of the presidency.