Uniting Against Ugliness: Donald Trump's Rhetoric Re-Energizing NFL Movement

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 23, 2017

Will Donald Trump's antagonistic comments revive NFL protests this weekend?
Will Donald Trump's antagonistic comments revive NFL protests this weekend?Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The movement was dying. In fact, it was all but dead.

Over a year ago, Colin Kaepernick sat, then took a knee, during the national anthem to protest social injustice. It started a movement, a movement that he paid dearly for with his career. He remains, to this day, blackballed by the NFL.

The movement grew. Players took notice and they took knees. Kaepernick was sacrificed and then gone from the NFL, yet the movement went on.

But soon, dozens of players turned into a few. In recent weeks, just a handful of NFL players followed Kaepernick's lead.

The movement was dying. In fact, it was all but dead.

Then, a great big buffoon came along. He huffed, and he puffed, and he angered, and he played his base like a fiddle. Then, suddenly, there wasn't disinterest from players. There also wasn't just anger from them. There was genuine fury.

"It's really sad man ... our president is a assh--e," tweeted LeSean McCoy.

In one fell swoop, President Donald Trump has managed to do something that two player strikes and countless other things could not: He unified the players.

They. Are. Pissed.

"I'm not surprised by Trump's comments," said wide receiver Doug Baldwin in a statement. "He has shown, since the beginning, his dehumanized nature."

Dave Zirin @EdgeofSports

Statement from Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin. Maybe my favorite response thus far. https://t.co/MpH2Y1dC44

He called Trump "close-minded, ignorant and uneducated."

On went the player reaction. Owners chimed in. Social media exploded with condemnation. But this story is more than that. This story isn't just about reaction. It's about unification.

On Sunday, I'm told, players are planning some type of mass protest, according to a player source. It's genuinely possible we see hundreds of players striking out against Trump's ugliness.

It likely won't just be the African-American players, either. I'm hearing all players, of every stripe, are genuinely seething.

I've never seen players this mad. About anything. As a result, this might be the most together the players have ever been. All thanks to Trump.

"We're proud of our country. We respect our flag," Trump said to loud applause at a rally on Friday night in Huntsville, Alabama. "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now? He's fired! He's fired!'"

Trump added that an NFL owner who releases a player would gain massive support across America.

"Some owner's gonna do that. He's gonna say, 'That guy that disrespects our flag? He's fired.' And that owner ... they'll be the most popular person in this country. Because that's a total disrespect of our heritage. That's a total disrespect of everything we stand for," Trump said.

Trump then said something fairly stunning. He believes fans should walk out if players don't stand for the anthem.

"If you see it, even if it's one player," Trump said, "Leave the stadium."

Trump basically just told a bunch of grown-ass men to shut up and do what they're told.

On Saturday night, Trump doubled, and even tripled, down on Twitter, stating Roger Goodell should tell players to stand.

Trump knows what he's doing. He's utilizing this issue to rally his supporters and divide the country, using the NFL as a sharp-edged object.

That may work with some of Trump's supporters, but the opposite has happened among the players. They've become more unified than ever before, and now the movement has lasting life.

The problem with some players all along has been they don't see their own power. NFL players aren't like their NBA counterparts. NBA players know they are the league. They are fearless, which is why you saw LeBron James tweet that Trump was a "bum."

UNINTERRUPTED @uninterrupted

"It’s not about dividing. We as American people need to come together even stronger.” — @KingJames responds to @realDonaldTrump’s comments. https://t.co/UHpzXpb42K

No, not every player is James, but every player knows the NBA is about them. Not the owners, not the commissioner—them.

NFL players still believe that axiom from the NFL of yesteryear. You can be replaced. We don't need you. Any dude on the street can do what you do. That hasn't been true for decades. Owners are still powerful, but try replacing Aaron Rodgers or Aaron Donald. They are special, and it takes years to find people who can do what they do.

Players also have the power to effect societal change. In fact, it's possible we see not just NFL players unify with each other, but we also may see the biggest stars in both the NBA and NFL unite to create a sort of Justice League.

In fact, we may already be seeing some of this. The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser reported that, on Saturday night, A's rookie Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to take a knee during the anthem. Mark Canha placed a hand on Maxwell's shoulder as he knelt. 

Trump's actions were a prime example of the law of unintended consequences. His words were meant to mostly divide. Instead, he's acted as a sort of gravitational pull for the players, and in a delicious piece of irony, the players can thank Trump for pulling them together.

Sometimes it takes a clown to unite a village. Many players had their heads buried deep in the turf. Now they are aware and angry.

The movement was dying. In fact, it was all but dead.

Then Donald Trump gave it life.

And now you will see a different set of players. Now, you will see a different NFL.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.