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LSU president F. King Alexander watches the first half of LSU's matchup with Stephen F. Austin, Saturday, December 16, 2017, at LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

LSU President F. King Alexander presumably cupped a hand over his phone when those legislators called.

The threat they made was so idiotic that he had to burst out laughing, and it would have been bad form to let them hear him. Not that he had anything to lose. The Legislature has proven so fiscally inept that there is no money left to yank from the higher education budget. State funding has been cut by 43 percent since 2008.

Legislators nevertheless warned Alexander there would be a price to pay should his football players offend patriotic sensibilities by doing a Colin Kaepernick.

The names of the poor saps who thus hoped to intimidate Alexander have not been revealed, so they are spared the embarrassment of explaining how come they are so unfamiliar with Tiger Stadium that they didn't know the national anthem is always over before the team emerges from the locker room. Alexander managed to contain his mirth in time to explain why legislators need not fear a disrespectful sideline genuflection from his players.

The legislators may have made fools of themselves when trying to blackmail and browbeat a college president. But there will be a serious abuse of power if ever they get some brains on their side. There is no sign of that happening yet.

Some Louisiana legislators have been seeing red, white and blue ever since NFL players started following Kaepernick's example by refusing to stand for The Star-Spangled Banner in protest against racism and police brutality. President Donald Trump has led the opposition, and tweeted this in October, “Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!”

Louisiana legislators who have no idea what is going on are in august company. The NFL has not been tax-exempt since 2015, and individual teams never have been.

Trump's command of policy detail is matched only by his silver tongue. He believes that NFL owners who spy a player taking a knee should shout, “Get that son of a bitch off the field. Out! He's fired!”

Presidential oratory doesn't get any finer than that, but Trump's words fell on deaf ears nationwide, with coach Sean Payton and the front office coming out in support of the 10 Saints players who joined the protest.

But state Attorney General Jeff Landry and a couple of legislators demanded that the state quit subsidizing the Saints if its players would not pay proper respects to Uncle Sam. The state owns, and a few years ago spent $85 million upgrading, the Superdome. But Saints owner Tom Benson gets to keep the revenues from ticket and concession sales, parking fees and naming rights, which are all exempt from sales taxes. The Saints contract also requires state agencies to rent office space from Benson at above-market rates.

Although the state would obviously face a humdinger of a lawsuit if it tried to renege on its deal with Benson, Landry did not bother with the legal niceties when seizing the opportunity to take a popular stance on a high-profile issue. In a written statement, Landry wondered "Why should the taxpayers subsidize with hundreds of millions of dollars a two billion dollar organization that allows the blatant disregard for our flag and our anthem?

State Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, took up the theme. “I believe in the right to protest,” he said, although his generous tolerance of dissent does not extend to a “taxpayer-subsidized sporting event.”

If the state quit subsidizing the Saints, Havard pointed out, there would be “plenty of disabled children, elderly and veterans in this state that would appreciate the money." That point should have been forcibly made long before taking a knee became all the rage on the football field.

According to Forbes magazine, Louisiana will subsidize the Saint and Benson's basketball team, the Pelicans, to the tune of $392 million through 2025. Benson is the richest man in Louisiana with a net worth of $2.8 billion that puts him on Forbes' list of the fattest cats in America, while higher education in Louisiana withers away and clueless legislators make empty threats.

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