As is only natural for a man of his stature, President Donald Trump made headlines yesterday after he made certain remarks. This normally would not be in our jurisdiction, but on this occasion, he turned his attention to the realm of sports, and commented directly on a hot topic in the NFL: anthem protests.
Beginning last season, a number of NFL players have participated in silent protests by taking a knee, raising a fist, kneeling in silent prayer, or remaining seated during the pre-game rendition of the national anthem. While Colin Kaepernick was sort of the touchpaper to get things started, a number of players from roughly a dozen or so teams have actively engaged since then.
Yesterday, Trump made remarks about these players and their actions during a rally in Alabama, according to ABC News, posing the question, “wouldn’t you love to see one of the NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘get that son of a b—- off the field right now?'”
In the 36 or so hours since then, many within and around the league have made public comment in response, including NFL Commission Roger Goodell, who issued the following statement:
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.
While no player on the Pittsburgh Steelers has of yet—to my knowledge—participated in any fashion, the team’s president, Art Rooney II, was among many owners who privately issued their own statements on the matter, though his was certainly the least substantive to date, simply describing the commissioner’s words as “appropriate”, concluding, “I have nothing to add at this time”.
Given the Steelers’ owners’ role in putting Goodell in place as the commissioner, it is little surprise that Rooney essentially chose to echo his comments while adding nothing more to it himself, deviating from much stronger messages issued by several other owners.
The Steelers in particular have an interesting relationship with this issue, driven largely by the presence of Alejandro Villanueva on the roster, who is a decorated war veteran, serving overseas in combat activity as an Army Ranger.
Villanueva shared his own thoughts on Kaepernick’s decision to protest last season, and other teammates, as well as Rooney and head coach Mike Tomlin, have largely deferred in that regard.
Many expect that there will be a strong response around the league to Trump’s comments in the form of a spreading of the pre-game protests, a theory made more plausible after several owners have vouched for their players’ rights to do so.
One team that I would not expect to be involved would be the Steelers, for reasons already stated above, though I could end up being wrong.