Greg Cote

Uninvited Eagles the latest example of Donald Trump's awful (yet brilliant) subterfuge

President Donald Trump participates in a "Celebration of America" event on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Tuesday. Trump quickly scheduled the event with military bands after canceling a visit with the Philadelphia Eagles as he stoked fresh controversy over players who protest racial injustice by taking a knee during the national anthem.
President Donald Trump participates in a "Celebration of America" event on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Tuesday. Trump quickly scheduled the event with military bands after canceling a visit with the Philadelphia Eagles as he stoked fresh controversy over players who protest racial injustice by taking a knee during the national anthem. AP

Donald Trump's lawyer said recently that presidential powers reach so far that "in no case can be subpoenaed or indicted" while in office. An unsettling new definition of "above the law" was offered when Rudy Giuliani further stated that Trump could have shot former FBI director James Comey to end the Russia investigation and not faced prosecution as a sitting president.

Given such omnipotence, I suppose it would be too much to ask that Trump might be charged with willfully hijacking a national conversation in a gross misrepresentation of NFL players that is calculated, self-serving and spectacularly wrong.

We see the latest example this week in Trump canceling a scheduled Tuesday White House visit by the Philadelphia Eagles to mark their Super Bowl championship. Were he not seemingly allergic to the truth, Trump might have admitted being miffed that the visiting party would be very small because so many Eagles players declined to go.

Instead the White House put out a statement that said the event was canceled because the Eagles disagreed "with their president because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country."

Again, again, Trump continues to hijack and distort the intent of the protest fathered by then-49errs quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016. Players were taking a knee during the anthem to make a statement against police killing unarmed black men. The cause was and is about racism, profiling and the fight for social justice.

The president closed his “Celebration of America” event with a rendition of the patriotic tune, but didn’t quite get all the words.

But Trump at every turn has made it about patriotism and blasted protesting players as un-American ingrates who should be "fired" from the NFL and perhaps shouldn't even be in the country at all.

So much for the First Amendment and a crazy little thing called freedom of expression. No, "Love it or leave it!" Fall in line with Trump's idea of patriotism or be accused of disrespecting the military and the American people. Guess what: The American people working to help and heal this country and make it better are more essential to its future than the American people who think everything is just fine as is.

(LeBron James said Tuesday his Cleveland Cavaliers or the Golden State Warriors, whichever wins the NBA Finals, will decline to attend the White House even if invited. Will Trump find a way to question that team's patriotism as well?)

Have I mentioned that zero Eagles players knelt even a single time during the anthem last season? I guess that kind of truth becomes an unimportant distinction when one is broad-brush painting the entire NFL as having a patriotism problem.

"NFL players love their country, support out troops, give back to their communities and strive to make America a better place," as the NFL Players Association reminded in a statement after the White House uninvited the Eagles.

From the Black Power Salute during the 1968 Olympics to Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, here's a look at some notable anthem protests in American sports.

The NFL should be supporting its players, too. Instead, waffling, weak commissioner Roger Goodell and his billionaire team owners who have a hell of a lot more in common with Trump than with their own players caved in to Trump's misinformation campaign by ruling that starting this season players who do not wish to stand during the anthem must stay hidden in their lockerrooms as it plays.

Meantime, on Tuesday, to fill the void left by the Eagles' canceled visit, Trump staged a White House "Celebration of America," including performances by the military bands and choirs.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a new policy on the national anthem during a press conference Wednesday. Players are not required to be on the field for the anthem, but will be fined if they are on the field and not standing for the anthem.

It is brilliant, Trump's subterfuge. Awful, but brilliant. By flipping the script to his preferred narrative and painting anthem protesters as un-American, he is taking the easy, populist stance that rallies his base. And he is doing much more than that by making an ongoing signature cause of his war with the NFL, a personal fight that would serve him well to go on and on.

This battle allows Trump to wrap himself comfortably in the flag and play the champion of patriotism.

And on the list of stuff he would rather see in headlines and hear discussed, it sure beats the hell out of (for example) the Russia investigation.

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