Preston: Let's hope we can get back to football this weekend

The games between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Ravens are always special, but Sunday’s game will have a deeper meaning.

It gets us back to football.

It gets us back to Terrell Suggs vs. Ben Roethlisberger and Jimmy Smith against Antonio Brown. It’s a chance to second-guess Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, and it allows us to discuss whether Le’Veon Bell is indeed the best running back in the NFL.

I just want to watch some football without the theater.

It’s been both sad and comical this week in the NFL. There have been player protests and protests of their protests. There have been petitions, fan complaints, media overhype and resignations.

But after the national anthem and coin flip Sunday, the NFL will return to business. One of the league’s best grudge matches will resume, a series in which 12 of the games played since 2008 have been decided by three points or fewer.

The assumption here is that most NFL teams will protest in some form possibly one more time before Sunday’s game and that will be the end. Some might not do anything.

“We are getting ready for Baltimore. We have not wasted a lot of time on that,” Tomlin said earlier this week. “Last week, it was unfortunate. But it was unfortunate for everyone, globally speaking. Issues that we dealt with other teams dealt with. From that standpoint, it was competitively fair. Now, I think it is time for all teams — not only us — to move on and get singularly focused on the playing of football. That has been our focus.”

Most sensible people have moved on. I’ve never agreed that taking a knee or locking arms before the national anthem was the proper way to display disapproval of racism, but I do understand that this is a democracy and there is freedom of speech.

Actually, most of the controversy surrounding recent player protests had died down until President Donald Trump used the term “son of a bitch” to refer to players who kneeled and told NFL owners fire them.

Some have suggested that Trump needs to focus his attention elsewhere — North Korea, tax reform, health care — but he can’t. He is just a talking hairpiece.

Unfortunately, he picked on the wrong guys. The NFL and its players are about intimidation. Players united, stood firm and held more protests, and even some owners joined them and blasted Trump.

That was impressive, but expected. The owners had to take the side of the players because they send them out onto the field every week to perform at high levels.

Unfortunately, Trump got what he wanted out of another hit-and-run maneuver, and it set off fan reactions. And of course, the media thrive on this because social media dictates the news cycle.

It’s been amusing to watch this week unfold. As of late Wednesday 40,000 people had reportedly signed an online petition that wanted the removal of the Ray Lewis statue at M&T Bank Stadium “because of his refusal to stand during the national anthem” while he was on the sideline with the team last weekend in London.

But the video showed Lewis on both knees praying, as he claimed. Some fans have suggested they plan to wear their jerseys inside out Sunday and others have said they plan to leave early to show their unhappiness.

Really. Another protest of a protest. Why not just stay home and cut the grass or rake some leaves? At least do something constructive with the time.

It’s sad in a sense because Baltimore is one of the NFL’s most storied cities, up there with Green Bay, Dallas, Chicago and Washington. The players really weren’t protesting the anthem; they were protesting Trump.

It’s an old lesson most of us have learned: If a bully slaps you, you slap them back.

Let’s hope it’s over now.

Some fans will be alienated and might never come back, but there will be a new crop. Sunday will be another day and hopefully all of this will go away.

I look forward to talking about Big Ben and Sizzle. I want to get a good feeling about whether it will be the Ravens or the Steelers who will win the AFC North. I want to see playing on the field, not protesting.

I want to see football again and all this other drama left behind.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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