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Dear NFL owners: You've been played - bigly

A funny thing happened on the way to the Philadelphia Eagles planned trip to a congratulatory Rose Garden ceremony Tuesday — they got disinvited by President Donald Trump. Why? Like most major pronouncements from this president, there’s the real reason and then there’s the stated reason. The stated reason, according to a White House press release issued late Monday, pointed a finger at the football players who “disagree 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.”

The far more likely real reason was because it wasn’t going to draw much of a crowd — perhaps fewer than 10 — as a lot of players including the team’s biggest stars had indicated they planned to skip the event. And perhaps because attacking the Eagles players, and by extension the entire National Football League over the matter of players kneeling to protest police brutality and the treatment of minorities in this country, President Trump gets to play to his political base, wrapping himself in the flag, the National Anthem and the military while hiding the reality that the Super Bowl winners just aren’t that into him.

Now, we don’t much care whether professional football players from 106 miles up Interstate 95 get their photo op in the Rose Garden. Name your sport, your city and your league, college or pro, the White House congratulatory stop is a big yawn of an event even for hardcore sports fans. But what’s important here is the absolute brazenness with which Mr. Trump operates. Not one Philadelphia Eagle had “taken a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem at games last season. Not one. They didn’t even stay behind in the locker room during pre-game ceremonies — the newly permitted form of protest under the new NFL rules. Not one.

What many of them don’t much like is President Trump. And it starts at the top with team owner Jeffrey Lurie who has called the nation’s chief executive “disastrous,” according to The New York Times. We would strongly suspect they don’t like his culture wars, they don’t like his embrace of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., and they probably didn’t care for the way he’s demonized football players. Wide receiver Torrey Smith, a former Baltimore Raven, expressed these frustrations clearly on a social media post.

“So many lies smh [shaking my head] Here are some facts 1. Not many people were going to go 2. No one refused to go simply because Trump “insists” folks stand for the anthem 3. The President continues to spread the false narrative that players are anti military,” the University of Maryland graduate wrote on Twitter, later adding: “It’s a cowardly act to cancel the celebration because the majority of the people don’t want to see you. To make it about the anthem is foolish.”

We can only hope that NFL owners feel pretty foolish for trying to mollify this president by adopting a policy that penalizes teams if the players sit or kneel on the field during the anthem. It did them absolutely no good and only reminded the public that they have no serious interest in social justice but a strong one in the bottom line. Mr. Trump isn’t interested in compromises, he’s interested in getting his supporters to believe football players hate the military. Reality has nothing to do with it. Have they not been paying attention? That President Trump initially praised the new policy (“The NFL owners did the right thing,” he told Fox & Friends less than two weeks ago) was no guarantee he’d stick to his story.

Above all else, this is a quarterback with a transparent playbook. If Mr. Trump has an opportunity to stoke white middle class resentment toward well-paid African American football players in a manner he’s convinced will win him votes, does anyone seriously believe that (insert your favorite noun here — reality, restraint, decorum, logic, shame) is going to stand in his way? President Trump celebrates himself above all. He’s the Deion Sanders/Terrell Owens/Chad Ochocinco/Joe Namath of the West Wing. How foolish if anyone associated with the Philadelphia Eagles or the NFL had any serious doubt about that.

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