Mark Herzlich's invite to President Trump is commendable, but this is 2018, and Trump is Trump

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

Mark Herzlich overcame bone cancer to become a football star at Boston College. He overcame going undrafted to play six seasons, and counting, as a linebacker for the New York Giants.

Beating long odds is his thing. But these odds may be too big even for him.

Herzlich wants President Donald Trump to come to the Giants’ locker room sometime, so he can observe unity in a diverse workplace before discussing tolerance, respect and the reason why some NFL players have chosen to protest inequality during the playing of the pregame national anthem.

“You go in the locker room and guys from every single race, every single demographic, every single religious background, and we all are just a team,” Herzlich told the New York Daily News. “And so I think we see that, what’s possible. And I would love Trump to come down here and hang out in our locker room and see what locker room talk’s really about, and talking about our night nurses and our babies — this is what we talk about, it’s a family.”

Mark Herzlich #94 of the New York Giants takes the field before the NFC wild card game against the Green Bay Packers on January 8, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Getty)

Never say never to Mark Herzlich, except here it is: That’s never going to happen.

Donald Trump isn’t walking into a NFL locker room, certainly not after using player protests as a political piñata he can whack at will and then bask in the candy it produces.

It really isn’t Trump’s position to go to the players. He’s the president. They should try to go to him, not that it matters.

The issue of protests during the anthem could use a lot more listening and a lot less talking on all sides. This is especially true since the NFL continues to allow players to protest (they can stay in the locker room during the 2018 season), even as many employers restrict such acts while on the clock.

Trump is famous for not being too keen on listening, though. He does the talking. As loud as he wants, truth or feelings be damned.

Herzlich has a fair point here, but some 20 months after Colin Kaepernick first sat during the anthem in the 2016 preseason, and with the NFL still allowing players to protest (they can stay in the locker room without penalty this season), Herzlich’s suggestion points to one of the larger problems here.

The messaging battle was lost long before Trump even cared about the issue. While players have said, repeatedly, that the protests were about myriad issues and not against the flag, the anthem or the military specifically, millions of Americans saw it differently and aren’t open to changing their mind anytime soon.

The flag is too personal to too many. The anthem is too much of a touchstone to mess with. If the goal was to create a reaction, it worked. If it was to create a meaningful conversation with the so-called other side, it was a failure.

It was perfect for a political opportunist such as Trump. It so riles up his base that every time the issue is about to die, he does what he can to keep in the news. (Bumbling NFL owners usually help him on that.) This thing is gold for Trump.

Herzlich is correct about this much: Discussions about the anthem protests are fascinating inside NFL locker rooms. These are diverse places. People from all backgrounds, all parts of the country, all perspectives. It’s why there are some players who are willing to take a knee. There are others that would never do it. They’ve all tried to convince the other to listen. It’s usually pretty thoughtful.

The one thing that has rung out is that when challenged by the president, most notably prior to Week 4 of the 2017 season, the league rallies and supports each other’s opinions. About the only thing they all agree on is the right to disagree.

As few as eight players took a knee in Week 3 last year. Then Trump called any protesting player a “son of a bitch” and breathed life into the nearly forgotten controversy. The following week entire teams, even owners, jumped in.

“I think the best way to handle remarks like that is it’s not necessarily a push back against his remarks. It’s to maintain the focus on the real issue,” Herzlich said. “The real issue isn’t players being against a president or against a country. It’s about players being for unity, and they want to create an atmosphere with law enforcement, with others in their community that we share in the locker room.”

That would be a good way to handle this, add nuance and perspective and comity to the hot-button issue. But that isn’t how it works. Not in 2018.

Trump treats everything like it’s cable news. That’s his value system. Every issue is an eight-minute shouting match between entrenched interests before the host moves onto the next bit of nonsense. It isn’t about an actual debate. What it’s about is pretty much just vilifying the other guy (“son of a bitch,” “racists,” “maybe they shouldn’t be in the country,” “bigots”).

Herzlich is operating in a bygone era. It’d be nice if it returned but this isn’t the era of nice.

The linebacker wants everyone to listen, especially the president. He thinks there’s a chance, all these months later, common ground and new perspectives can be found on an issue that the players never have been successful in defining.

He just needs Trump to walk into the Giants’ locker room.

Maybe it would help, but not even Mark Herzlich is pulling that one off.

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