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If politics truly makes for strange bedfellows, imagine how weird the NFL and its players feel right about now.
The league office and the players union have been at odds for virtually every second of the last decade, in matters on and off the field.
Just recently, the NFLPA took the league to federal court to challenge the six-game suspension of Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott as the NFL contends that Elliott violated the league’s policy on domestic violence.
The fact that union head DeMaurice Smith’s term was reupped for three years through 2021, and that commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract extension through 2024 is a reported fait accompli pretty much guarantee that the two sides will keep on fighting for the foreseeable future.
But over the weekend, the two sides put down their proverbial weapons and found commonality.
Their unity came in their repudiation of the words of one man, Donald Trump, who dared to tell the players that they shouldn’t exercise their First Amendment rights.
In a Friday night rally in Huntsville, Alabama, Trump profanely declared owners should fire any players who kneel during the playing of the national anthem, a trend started last season by former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Trump’s broadside seemed aimed largely at African-American players, who have taken up the cause of shining a light on perceived police brutality and other matters involving social justice.
Before 7 a.m. Saturday, the NFLPA issued a statement challenging Goodell to speak up for the players as well as affirming that the union quote “will never back down” unquote in supporting the constitutional rights of its players.
In fairness, Smith and the union had the easy task. Criticizing Trump has become as nearly as popular an endeavor as, well, watching the NFL in many quarters.
Indeed, by later in the day, the NFLPA was joined in opposing the president by rather vocal NBA players, including LeBron James and Stephen Curry.
Trump publicly disinvited Curry’s Golden State Warriors from visiting the White House, a custom for championship squads, as Curry and other teammates had slammed the president.
Goodell, meanwhile, had to walk a very fine tightrope. Yes, he needed to back his players, many of whom have taken prominent positions in support of Kaepernick and his advocacy.
At the same time, seven NFL owners, the group that pays Goodell, gave at least $1 million each toward Trump’s inaugural last January, in keeping with the league’s status as the most politically conservative of American sports leagues.
Goodell’s statement Saturday called Trump’s bromides quote divisive unquote and demonstrating a quote an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players unquote.
By kickoff Sunday, a number of owners, including the Ravens’ Steve Bisciotti, issued statements criticizing Trump and supporting the players’ right to protest.
And more than 100 players on two continents did just that, kneeling and linking arms in solidarity.
Given their history, it figures that the players and the owners will be back at each other’s throat really soon. But with Donald Trump in office, they may find occasional common ground, even if they aren’t picking out china patterns or quilts.
And that’s how I see it for this week.