How the NFL Lost to Trump

by Rich Lowry

I wrote today for Politico about the NFL beginning to buckle on the anthem issue and how Trump’s lines at his Alabama rally played:

Since no NFL players were going to be fired, the fundamental issue was never going to be Trump’s lurid overstatement. Instead, the overstatement acted as a neon advertisement for his commonsensical underlying point, namely that players should stand during the national anthem. And it baited the NFL into fighting him on indefensible ground.

There were all sorts of unobjectionable means available for players to take a stand of defiance toward Trump, but they allowed themselves to, in effect, get double-dared into disrespecting the flag. 

The perils here should have been obvious. The flag is one of our most potent national symbols. The U.S. Code sets out how it should be treated. It drapes the coffins of fallen warriors. It flies at half-staff to mark national tragedies and the loss of the country’s heroes. People can get extremely emotional seeing it displayed the wrong way or touching the ground. 

David Frum, one of the most incisive and unrelenting anti-Trump voices in the country, wrote a piece for the Atlantic at the outset of the controversy, urging players not to cede the flag to Trump. They went right ahead and ceded the flag to Trump. Why? 

It was, in part, a classic bubble phenomenon. Sports journalists are, if anything, more left than political journalists. They were excited about being at the center of a national political debate and sticking it to Trump. Much of the media piled right behind them. On CNN and MSNBC for days after Trump’s initial riff it was rare to hear a commentator say a discouraging word about the protests, let alone warn that the NFL was stumbling into Trump’s political kill box.

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