There was a time, you young people out there, when Sunday was just Football Day.
America had worked all week, drank a little too much on Friday night, did the chores and mowed the lawn on Saturday, and was all set for a peaceful Sunday watching big men smash into each other. Football Sunday brought the entire family together, as well as friends near and far and, sometimes, the whole neighborhood.
Sadly, all that is gone. Now, there’s politics in everything. (And one other thing, young people: Hollywood award shows, they used to be just that, awards, nothing else. Once upon a time, the best supporting actress just thanked everyone who helped her win the award, she didn’t lecture America about blood diamonds.)
As politics has been infused into nearly every aspect of life, sports has held out the longest. Most of those involved in the games that America watches know that viewers want a break from the world — which means no politics. Even the athletes used to steer clear of politics, choosing to let their skills on the field of play speak for them.
But politics, like kudzu, has invaded everything, and sports has finally fallen. The new slogan for NFL Sunday will now be: “Are you ready for some politics!?”
The whole mess exploded on Saturday. President Trump took to Twitter to disinvite Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors from visiting the White House amid reports the NBA champs were having a team meeting to decide whether or not to go. The mess spiraled. The whole team decided not to come. NBA stars took to Twitter to fire back.
Then Trump called out the NFL players who disrespect America during the National Anthem. That brought more reaction from athletes and owners. A major league baseball player, apparently upset that no one was talking about them, even took a knee during the Anthem.
Now, let’s keep this all in perspective. Nearly 50 years ago, President Richard Nixon invited sports teams to the White House. Did they all — every player — agree with Nixon, support the Vietnam War? Did they for Ronald Reagan? George Bush? Barack Obama?
Of course not. But they went to the White House because the president invited them. They were civil, adult, mature. And when the president invites you to the White House, you go.
So here’s the big point: There’s no place for politics in sports. None. Zero. Zip.
Sports is, for the viewer, an escape from the real world, where we can watch finely tuned athletes play a game at the very highest level. No viewer cares a whit whether Bryce Harper agrees with the president on trade tariffs — nor should they. It’s a game — just play it (and make millions while you do it).
So, how all of this should have gone down is simple: Sports teams should have nixed any protest in the bud. Colin Kaepernick wants to protest against police brutality by refusing to stand during the National Anthem? Fired — with a simple message from the owners: You can do whatever you want on your time, but don’t bring it to the stadium.
You think you could show up to work tomorrow, carry an upside-down flag back and forth on the sidewalk in front of your office? You’d be canned faster than Kaepernick checks his email each morning to see if he got a job. And rightly so: You’re supposed to be working. You can, of course, do whatever you like once you’re off the clock.
But the owners don’t care about the people who pay their salaries — you. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft released a statement Sunday, saying, “Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”
So do we all. Just take it off the field. Sunday is sacred: Just play ball.
And the NFL thinks politics seeping into football is perfectly fine. Commissioner Roger Goodell on Saturday said Trump’s “divisive comments” reveal an “unfortunate lack of respect” for the NFL.
Today, on Football Sunday, expect players in nearly every NFL game to take a knee during the National Anthem — the childish Trump has dared them, and they’ll act like children, too, and do it. The guys who should be telling us stats during the game will be talking politics, and across America, the peaceful bond of Sunday football will be broken by a political discussion.
And that’s just wrong. You can have everything else, politics, just leave us Sunday afternoon.