That continued a theme sounded by the president’s son, Eric, who tweeted last week that “football is officially dead” after a report that Dallas Cowboys players had been given a “green light” to protest during the national anthem to raise awareness of social injustice and police brutality. “So much for ‘America’s sport.’ Goodbye NFL … I’m gone,” he added.
In his speech Sunday, Trump went on to say that people used to request that events not be scheduled against football games. “[Now] they say, ‘Can you possibly do it during a football game?’” he said. “’We have some free time.’”
Though the president on Sunday called football “boring,” he has been vocal in pressing for sports, especially college football, to continue despite concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, he weighed in on Twitter, declaring that “student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be canceled” and adding a hashtag — #WeWantToPlay — championed by high-profile players. “Play College Football!” he wrote in another tweet.
But, as The Post’s David Nakamura wrote last week, Trump is in a weakened position compared with four years ago, and efforts to drag the league into another debate in the culture wars could backfire politically. Four years ago, Trump successfully and falsely framed the protests as being against the military and the flag despite players and Kaepernick repeatedly saying they were about police brutality.
The state of the product on the field has also drawn the attention of Trump, who famously was a USFL owner in the 1980s and who said he tried to purchase the Buffalo Bills in 2014. As he was campaigning for the presidency during a January 2016 rally in Reno, Trump said the NFL was becoming “soft” because of safety concerns.
“It’s a Sunday, who the hell wants to watch these crummy games? I just want to watch the end,” he said at the time. ” … I’m watching a game yesterday. What used to be considered a great tackle, a violent head-on [tackle], a violent — if that was done by Dick Butkus, they’d say he’s the greatest player. If that were done by Lawrence Taylor — it was done by Lawrence Taylor and Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke, right? Ray Nitschke — you used to see these tackles and it was incredible to watch, right?
“Now they tackle. ‘Oh, head-on-head collision, 15 yards.’ The whole game is all screwed up. You say, ‘Wow, what a tackle.’ Bing. Flag. Football has become soft. Football has become soft. Now, I’ll be criticized for that. They’ll say, ‘Oh, isn’t that terrible.’ But football has become soft like our country has become soft. [Applause] It’s true. It’s true.
“It’s become weak and you know what? It’s going to affect the NFL. I don’t even watch it as much anymore. It’s going to affect the NFL. I don’t watch it. The referees, they want to all throw flags so their wives see them at home. ‘Oh, there’s my husband.’ [Laughter] It’s true. ‘He just broke up — he just gave a 15-yard penalty on one of the most beautiful tackles made this year.’ Right?
“It’s boring — although I love Tom Brady. I gotta tell you. I do love Tom. He’s a great guy. But it’s different. But it’s become soft and our country has become soft.”