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Fish ‘n Chips

Posted by Eric Fisher On October 1

Sports and politics is a combustible mix. That’s why I usually try to keep them separate. But when the president injects himself into the national anthem protest controversy, it’s impossible to keep the worlds of sports and politics apart.

Why did President Trump inject himself into the debate on this issue? Was it to inflame the passions of his political base? Was it revenge on the NFL for rejecting his attempts to buy a team in the past or for running the USFL out of business? Was it to distract attention from other political issues?

I have no idea what motivated President Trump to dive into the deep end of the national anthem issue. But I know he created a firestorm.

I’m on the record as saying that I don’t like athletes kneeling during the national anthem. I think the national anthem should be a time of unity. Race, religion, ethnicity and even which team you’re rooting for should be put aside as we stand together and honor our country.

At the same time, I defend the right of players to express their opinion. Technically, players don’t have freedom of speech while representing their teams on the field. They have the freedom to express themselves, but their free speech has consequences. The team has the legal right to punish players for not standing during the national anthem, which is a violation of their contract.

As I’ve written before, I wish players would find a different way to express their feeling on racial injustice. That doesn’t demean the stance. I just wish it would be done at a different time. I want the national anthem to be a time of unity rather than a time of division.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for Colin Kaepernick, whose unemployment has caused some people to call for a boycott of the NFL. Free speech comes with consequences. If Kaepernick were an elite quarterback, he would be employed. But the last thing a team wants is a backup quarterback who will be a distraction. Imagine every game providing an opportunity for  a new set of writers to ask about Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem, and then asking other players on the team about their feelings on his stance. Teams will put up with that type of distraction from a star. It won’t sign a backup player who brings that type of controversy.

With his public comments about players protesting during the national anthem, saying that NFL owners should fire or suspend a player who does so, Trump brought every player on every team into this issue.

The response varied. Some teams (Steelers, Seahawks and Titans) chose to remain in the locker room during the national anthem. Other teams were split, with some players remaining seated or taking a knee. Others, like the Eagles, locked arms, with several owners from several teams joining the players in locking arms.

The Eagles’ reaction, in particular, was wonderful. Not only did the players and coaches lock arms, as did owner Jeffrey Lurie, but police were included in the show of unity. This demonstrated that the Eagles’ protest wasn’t anti-police. Kaepernick didn’t have that unifying message, especially after photos of him wearing socks depicting police as pigs during 49ers practice were made public.

By challenging the freedom of speech of players, President Trump may have inadvertently transformed the national anthem back into a moment of unity among the players, fans and police, just as I’d prefer it be for everyone at sporting events.


AT WAR WITH WARRIORS: President Trump doubled down in his war with the sports world by disinviting the Golden State Warriors from a celebration of their NBA title at the White House. The truth, of course, is that the Warriors were considering declining the invitation, which is why the president fired a pre-emptive strike by uninviting them.

I fault the Warriors for leaning toward declining an honor. Athletes with conservative political leanings were criticized for not attending title celebrations at the White House with President Obama. By the same principle, the Warriors shouldn’t have rejected a trip to the White house because they don’t like the president.

On the other hand, if this is the beginning of the end for the White House ceremonies with championship teams, I won’t bemoan the passing of that tradition.


STANDING ALONE: One of the unfortunate victims of the national anthem controversy was Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva. While his teammates remained in the locker room or in the runway, Villenueva stood at attention, with his hand over his heart, just outside the tunnel during the national anthem.

Villaneuva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan and won a bronze star for valor, publicly apologized to his teammates for not remaining out of sight during the national anthem. And that’s a shame.

After serving our country so valiantly, there’s no need for Villaneuva to apologize for respectfully standing at attention during our national anthem.


LOSING SPROLES: Let’s home that the broken forearm and torn ACL running back Darren Sproles sustained on the same play during the Eagles’ 27-24 triumph over the Giants doesn’t mark the end of his remarkable career. Sproles had indicated that this was going to be his final season, although, as the season got closer, he left himself some wiggle room regarding his future plans. Eagles fans would love to see Sproles, a potential Hall of Famer, return for one more season.


TOUGH DECISIONS: Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has some difficult decisions to make regarding the Flyers’ final roster. There is competition at both forward and on defense, which should be looked at as a positive manner.

The competition among the defensemen comes down to Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim and Sam Morin battling for two spots. Brandon Manning could also be in the conversation, but he would have to clear waivers to be sent to the Phantoms.

Waivers options also could play into the decision-making process at forward, where Taylor Leier would have to pass through waivers, but Oskar Lindblom would not. Another option would be to keep both Leier and Lindblom and sent veteran Matt Read to the Phantoms, gambling that a team wouldn’t take Read and his $3.5 million salary (and $3.6 million salary cap hit) – or perhaps hoping that they would take Read, providing the Flyers with some salary cap relief.


BABY STEPS: Are we supposed to be excited that Joel Embiid took part in a halfcourt 5-on-5 scrimmage during Friday’s practice? Six months after surgery to repair his meniscus, and five days before the Sixers’ first preseason game, Embiid doesn’t appear close to being physically ready to endure an NBA season.

It will be very interesting to see how much the Sixers are willing to commit to Embiid. The deadline for signing Embiid to a new contract – his original deal ends after this season – is Oct. 16.


VULNERABLE LIONS: Penn State is ranked fourth in the nation, but the undefeated Nittany Lions have some noticeable weaknesses. Their offensive line is, at best, average. And that makes the accomplishments of Heiman Trophy candidate Saquon Barkley even more remarkable.

The Nittany Lions have also seemed to be vulnerable to a solid rushing attack. If a team gets ahead of Penn State, it may be able to control the game – and keep the Nittany Lions’ big-play offense off the field – with a sustained rushing attack.


BUSY DAY: The first day of October is a busy day in the Philadelphia sports scene. The Union, clinging to the slimmest of playoff hopes, host the defending-champion Seattle Sounders at 1 p.m. The Phillies play their final game this season at 3 p.m. against the Mets at Citizens Bank Park. Across the street at Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers play their preseason finale at 5 p.m. against the Islanders. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the Eagles battle the Chargers (4 p.m.). For those who want to extend the boundaries of the Delaware Valley, Dover International Speedway is hosting the Apache Warrior 400 (1 p.m.) at NASCAR reduces its playoff field from 16 drivers to 12.


PLAYOFF MATCHUPS SET: With the Red Sox clinching the American League East Division crown and the Rockies clinching the second wild card berth in the National League, the playoff pairings are set. The Yankees will host the Twins in the AL wild card game Tuesday (8 p.m.). The Diamondbacks will host the Rockies in the NL wild card game Wednesday (8 p.m.).

The winner of the AL wild card game will start a series with the Indians on Thursday, the same day on which the Red Sox start their AL Division Series on the road against the Astros. The NL wild card game winner will open a series against the Dodgers on Friday, with the Nationals hosting the defending-champion Cubs on the same day in the start of their NL Division Series.

Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for 29 years, always stands for the national anthem.

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