MICHAEL RUSSELL

Opinion: NFL national anthem protests pit Roger Goodell vs. Donald Trump

Sep 25, 2017, 2:05 PM | Updated: 2:14 pm

Buffalo Bills players kneel during the national anthem prior to an NFL football game against the De...

Buffalo Bills players kneel during the national anthem prior to an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

(AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

There are two very loud, very opinionated sides of this controversy of NFL players taking a knee or in some other way protesting during the national anthem.

Let’s — just for a moment — set aside the debate on players standing or kneeling and instead focus on one of the potentially greatest battles of our time.

It’s a battle between two herculean egos. It’s a battle between two titans of industry.

On one side, the all-controlling, all-powerful head of the NFL himself, Roger Goodell. And on the other side, the most powerful man in the world, President Donald Trump.

This should be a battle that they write about in history books.

But thanks to Goodell, they won’t.

Please keep in mind that Trump called the NFL out at a rally — a political election rally. He knew his audience would eat that up. That’s why it was part of his rally.

Trump was elected by a lot of people that hold our flag and anthem very dear. That’s who he was talking to.

Goodell was offended and decided to respond. He quickly reminded us how bad he is at public relations because he made a HUGE mess of things.

Let’s start with Goodell’s written statement on Trump’s comments:

“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”

What? Talking about natural disasters and community outreach? Not even bringing up new kneeling or standing? Score one for Trump.

Add in this past weekend’s marching orders from Goodell and National Football League Players Association for teams to lock arms in solidarity — with owners in tow — and the league has shown exactly how tone deaf it is to the majority of its fans.

A perfect example understanding your fanbase would be NASCAR, which reminded each team that those that were not standing for the national anthem would be given the boot. It understands its fan base.

So back to the Herculean battle of egos.

Trump is taking an early and strong lead. He’s winning on both points and punches.

Trump is both speaking his mind and voicing the thinking of a large part of this nation. He’s speaking openly and honestly.

The debate here isn’t whether or not a president should speak this way or tweet like this. That’s a discussion for another time.

Goodell, on the other hand, is acting tone deaf, just like he always does (I submit the Ray Rice and Deflategate debacles as proof) and people are taking notice.

You don’t win any points with fans when your hypocrisy is blinding them.

Goodell defending our nation’s great First Amendment and his players’ freedom of expression sounds good on paper, until you look at this man’s history.

He has time and time again squashed expression. He has presided over rule changes that have dubbed the NFL the No Fun League. Don’t remember? Try these on for size:

Last year, the league barred the Dallas Cowboys from wearing a decal on their helmet honoring the five police officers that were killed in a domestic terror attack.

The league also blocked Titan’s linebacker Avery Williamson from wearing cleats that read “9/11/01” and “never forget” on the 15th anniversary of 9/11.

Quarterback Robert Griffin III was told to turn his “Know Jesus, Know Peace” shirt inside-out before he addressed the press.

The Steelers’ William Gay was fined for wearing purple cleats, which he did to raise awareness for domestic violence.

Last year, the league changed the rule book to include a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebrations and taunting. Excuse me, Mr. Goodell, but aren’t celebrating and taunting considered freedoms of expression?

These inconsistencies are destroying what little credibility Goodell has left.

As this battle of egos rages on, keep looking for Trump to continue to be himself. He will stay consistent on this and he will continue to defend our nation’s national anthem. Whether you agree or not, you have to give him points for consistency on this matter.

Goodell will continue to do what he always does by staying inconsistent and hoping that our nation turns its attention to the next controversy of the month — and quickly. He has to. He has jumped into the ring with the wrong ego.

Michael Russell

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Opinion: NFL national anthem protests pit Roger Goodell vs. Donald Trump