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Roger Goodell and the NFL have no one to blame for Donald Trump’s attacks but themselves

The NFL tried capitulation, but the league would’ve been better off having principles and standing up for them.

NFL: Super Bowl LI Champions-New England Patriots White House Visit Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The story of Roger Goodell’s father standing up to the Nixon Administration as a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War was a popular anecdote for sportswriters last fall. Charles Goodell, a Republican senator from New York, appointed to fill the seat left vacant in the wake of Robert Kennedy’s assassination, had his political career torpedoed by a vile, corrupt president and his allies for taking a stand against an unpopular war. It made for a fitting comparison at a time when the NFL commissioner and the owners took the rare step of supporting, or at least declining to punish, players who took a knee during the national anthem to raise awareness of the injustices facing black and brown people in this country, players the president called “sons of bitches.”

Charles Goodell never wavered in his opposition to the war. However, anyone who knows anything about the league knew that the younger Goodell wouldn’t have the same strength of his convictions.

The NFL under Goodell never seems to do anything right.

This is the same entity that for years couldn’t define the act of catching a football. From Bountygate to its short-lived intolerance for domestic abuse, the league somehow manages to make every crisis worse. It’s a hallmark of the league under Roger Goodell’s leadership.

Last month NFL owners approved a policy that they thought was a sop to the president, a rule that would punish players and teams for not standing while giving teams the option of staying the locker room during the anthem.

It looked like the league got the president off its back, too. President Donald Trump said the owners “did the right thing” following the decision. But the only thing more reliable than the NFL tripping over itself is this president contradicting himself.

The president was bothered when he didn’t get the chance to make himself look good by having his picture taken with Tom Brady, who didn’t attend the Patriots’ White House visit last year. When the White House learned that only a handful of Eagles players planned to be there this year, they saw opportunity and disinvited them.

Instead, the president is throwing himself a party at the NFL’s expense. A gaggle of his supporters will be on hand Tuesday along with the United States Marine Corps Band and the U.S. Army Chorus, but nobody from the Super Bowl champs. (Fortunately, patriotic music doesn’t affect the debilitating bone spurs that kept the president from putting on a uniform himself.)

“This is a very winning, strong issue for me,” Trump told Jerry Jones last year. “Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.”

Trump took aim at the league, and the owners capitulated with their new anthem policy, billed as a way to “get the focus back on football.” Surprise, it didn’t work.

Trump still has an easy culture war issue to hammer on Fox & Friends when he needs to distract the country from things like his former campaign manager being accused of jury tampering, unpopular tariffs that will hit his base voters in the pocketbook, breaking up families because they’re immigrants, etc.

Now, players are left to defend themselves while the league runs scared.

Former Eagles receiver Torrey Smith called out Trump’s stunt Monday night. On Tuesday morning, Eagles tight end Zach Ertz took exception to the president’s preferred propaganda machine misrepresenting his team.

Standing up for what was right cost Charles Goodell his political career. He did it anyway.

On this issue, Roger Goodell and the NFL have the chance to do the right thing. It’s the only course available to them. Capitulation to Trump didn’t work. He hammered the NFL and its players in spite of the new hardline anthem rule. So they might as well stand up for players and their constitutional rights.

It would go a long way to building some much needed goodwill between players and owners. It might even dull the edge of Trump’s attacks.