LONDON — When the American national anthem is played before Sunday's game at Wembley Stadium, reporters will be watching to see who takes a knee a la Colin Kaepernick.
Although players dissing The Star-Spangled Banner should be run out of the NFL, according to President Donald Trump, no Saint or Dolphin is in danger of the heave-ho. The team owners, Tom Benson and Stephen Ross, both support the right to protest.
So does Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who looked on approvingly at Wembley last Sunday when his players defied Trump. Those “sons of bitches,” to borrow a term from the presidential lexicon, went on to thrash the Baltimore Ravens.
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Khan is a Muslim born in Pakistan, so his disagreements with Trump extend beyond the football field. Although Khan was enraged by Trump's travel ban, he had earlier been supportive enough to donate $1 million toward the costs of the inauguration that attracted crowds visible only to presidential spokesman Sean Spicer.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The New Orleans Saints made a statement Sunday.
The other transatlantic sports mogul, Stan Kroenke, who owns the Los Angeles Rams and the English Premier League club Arsenal, has no religious or ethnic associations that might suggest a want of affinity with Trump, and he too donated $1 million to the inauguration fund. Now, however, Kroenke has roundly rejected Trump's call for the dismissal of disloyal players and championed their “freedom to peacefully express themselves.”
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Similar views have been heard from several NFL muckamucks, and even commissioner Roger Goodell has chimed in. Nobody, however, seems inclined to offer Kaepernick a job, although there are clearly plenty of less gifted quarterbacks raking in the dough. The only possible explanation for the lack of offers since he quit the San Francisco 49ers and became a free agent is politics. Whatever the views of NFL owners on the subject of free speech, a failure to sing along with the national anthem, or, more likely, fake it, will be widely seen as tantamount to treason.
Fans will threaten to stay away in droves if a team signs Kaepernick, and maybe that risk would be worth taking if sporting excellence were the only goal. But business may come first in the NFL, which will therefore be very careful not to rub its customers the wrong way. Teams may stop short of dismissing other players who fail to make a show of loyalty to the flag, but Kaepernick has evidently been cast as a pariah.
Although it might be an exaggeration to say that is Trump's role over here, he is so profoundly unpopular that he has abandoned plans to visit Britain this year after 1.8 million people signed a petition against according him a state visit. Trump, according to press reports, has averred he expects to be conveyed to Buckingham Palace along with the queen in a horse-drawn, gold-plated carriage, but a campaign has been launched online to greet him somewhat less formally. The plan, which does not bode well for the special relationship, is for the masses along the parade route to moon POTUS.
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Trump has told Prime Minister Theresa May that he won't set foot in Britain until he can be guaranteed a friendly reception, so it won't be happening for a long time. Certainly, he won't have won many new admirers lately around here, where the etiquette of the American national anthem is not seen as the most pressing issue facing the planet.
The British do not regard “God Save the Queen” with the same awe that "The Star-Spangled Banner” stirs in American breasts, but the players who knelt for the latter at Wembley last week were polite enough to stand for the former. Had those players known the words that went along with the tune, the couplet that must have resonated most was “Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks.” One version of the anthem denigrates Trump's maternal forebears with a call “Rebellious Scots to crush.”
No wonder lots of them fled to the land of the free, where it doesn't make a lot of sense to require that people stand when the national anthem is played, although they can burn the real thing with impunity, thanks to Supreme Court rulings. A bill that would have criminalized desecration of Old Glory, co-sponsored by then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, subsequently failed.
Fans descending on London over the next few days may not care what their players do when the familiar strains ring out so long as they go on the Dolphins to crush.