On Saturday ESPN Radio's "The Sporting Life," host Jeremy Schaap and ESPN Senior Writer Howard Bryant discussed "the increasingly rocky relationship between Trump and athletes." Author of "The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism," Bryant said President Donald Trump is dragging athletes into a culture war and the new no-kneeling rule he forced on the owners was a "stab in the back."
Schaap started the interview by asking Bryant for a reaction to this week's Trump withdrawal of an invitation to the Super Bowl champion Eagles to a White House celebration, which only a handful of players and the mascot agreed to attend. Bryant responded:
"We're in the middle of a culture war, and we can see that the president sees this as not only something that he can capitalize off of politically, but also something that the players now have to make a decision on, in that is the White House visit respect for the office or a repudiation of him? And I think that what we saw with the Eagles—they did not see it as you just kinda go even if you don't like the guy in office because you have so much respect for the office and who gets to go to the White House in our lifetime. I think they really viewed this as no, it's a direct repudiation of you, we're not going. Not because we disagree with your foreign policy, but because we disagree with you period."
To Bryant, the deal breaker for the Eagles who weren't planning to attend was Trump's September speech in Alabama when he called kneeling protesters SOBs.
"And I think that is a direct reaction from what the president did in September, calling the players SOBs and questioning their citizenship and questioning whether or not they even belonged in the country," Bryant said.
Also, Bryant thinks the activist players believed their social justice concerns were settled when the NFL gave them $89 million to throw at racial inequality, prison reform and education reform. The players view the recent decision of the league to ban anthem protests as a betrayal inspired by their biggest critic, the president. Bryant said:
"So then for the owners to come out with a national anthem policy it sorta seems like being stabbed in the back, like a double cross. And then for Donald Trump to go and attack them for political points, and the players said, 'you know what? You mess with us, we'll mess with you.' And that's where we're at."
Schaap asked how "we" can possibly sustain another 2 1/2 or 6 1/2 years of Trump drama "that doesn't seem sustainable."
Bryant said "when you've got a White House that keeps inserting sports into its politics" it is a sustainable battle between Trump and athletes. Discounting the national outcry against disrespectful kneelers, Bryant claims we're not really sure how people feel because 90 million people didn't vote. Though a confused Bryant isn't sure where the public stands on this whole thing, he also says, "Right now, it's been completely one-sided. It's been to blame the players and to blame the kneelers and to blame everybody who's wearing the uniform."
The interview came to an end with Bryant getting in one more dig at the president and plugging his book and his favorite complaint: too many military salutes, military family reunions and too many American flags at sports event. "Where we're really at is, you know we're in year 18 of post-9/11 politicization and militarization of sports. And on top of that now you've got another wild card element which is the president attacking players when he decides to attack them."
It may come as a surprise to Bryant that his athlete heroes are no angels. Colin Kapernick fired the first "shot" in sports' culture war. LeBron James has sworn at President Trump and called him a "bum." Stephen Curry called him "an asset without the et."