President Donald Trump leaned into yet another sporting world fight Monday morning, calling out Oakland Raider Marshawn Lynch after the running back opted to sit during the national anthem before his NFL game over the weekend.
"Marshawn Lynch of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders stands for the Mexican Anthem and sits down to boos for our National Anthem. Great disrespect! Next time NFL should suspend him for remainder of season. Attendance and ratings way down," Trump tweeted.
The Raiders played the New England Patriots in Mexico and, as ESPN noted, Lynch stood for the first bars of the United States national anthem but eventually sat down, as he has done all season as a part of the widespread protests against the oppression of African Americans in the U.S. Lynch then stood for the Mexican national anthem.
Trump has continually railed against the NFL, which, as the president noted, has experienced declining ratings—like nearly all of television—but remains a behemoth in the sporting world even as it deals with a concussion crisis and internal ownership battles that amount to a civil war.
After spending a fair bit of time critiquing Colin Kaepernick, who launched the national anthem protests while playing for the San Francisco 49ers, Trump has chosen to go after a popular figure in Lynch, who has done extensive charity work focused on helping children in his hometown of Oakland.
Never one to settle on a single-front war, Trump has also spent the last few days attacking LaVar Ball and others after the president supposedly worked to get three UCLA basketball players—including Ball's son LiAngelo—released after they were arrested in Hangzhou, China and accused of shoplifting. Trump wondered if they would thank him, and all three subsequently did in a press conference. But the elder Ball famously loves to peacock and troll, and so his response to a question about Trump's claim to have helped in the matter served to stir controversy.
"Who?" Ball said to ESPN about the president. "What was he over there for? Don't tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out."
A Trump tweet followed, predictably. "Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!" he posted.
This all goes to show that Trump can't seem to leave well enough alone with the sports world. His fight with the NFL dates back to his USFL days in the 1980s, and even as president he appears to crave both power over the league and recognition from its players and leaders. Also, if he did help the U.S. college basketball players, the deed was not enough: He apparently also needed it to look good in the press.
Lots of sports fans have taken objection to athletes speaking out. Some, like Trump, even attribute the NFL ratings decline to anger over the protests, which might have a kernel of truth but is for the most part an oversimplification. These folks want players to stick to sports. But Trump has shown time and again that he wants to use his high platform to insert himself into the sporting world instead of just remaining in the world of politics and, you know, governing the country.
If the president can't stick to politics, why should anybody else stay in their supposed lanes? Politics are sports and sports are politics. And the fighting may just be beginning: LaVar Ball is scheduled to be interviewed on CNN Monday night.
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