Sure, he’s already on the bad side of plenty of Americans: immigrants, women, minorities, generally any decent people. Now, we can add professional athletes to the list.
The president has whipped up what is perhaps his most bizarre and misguided controversy yet, calling any football player that protests a “son of a bitch” and separately going after NBA superstar Steph Curry.
His comments immediately led to broad condemnation from U.S. professional athletes, players’ associations, and teams. Every NFL game on Sunday had some form of protest, but the blowback didn’t stop there. Even people like Terry Bradshaw, a former NFL quarterback who has spent years as a commentator on Fox, weighed in.
The notion that a person like Bradshaw would speak on the controversy—and forcefully against the president at that—speaks to just how misguided a move Trump has made here.
People like Bradshaw don’t want to talk about politics. Likewise, people don’t want to hear people like Bradshaw talking about politics. They tune in to his show for football talk and bad jokes. It’s a safe space from the constant insanity of Trump.
No more. Trump’s comments have taken what were relatively limited athlete protests and turned them into must-talk TV. On Sunday, Fox and CBS both showed the national anthem live for many games, which they don’t usually do. ESPN also dedicated a significant amount of its pregame coverage to the topic, as did the NFL Network.
Trump had recently begun to look something more like a president, successfully avoiding any major mistakes around the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. His speech at the United Nations was a little rocky, but the lack of serious screw-ups even led to an uptick in his otherwise brutal approval rating.
Trump simply doesn’t need this. The situation with North Korea is on its way to being the most dangerous international standoff since the Cuban missile crisis. He’s trying to get tax reform done and there’s still the prospect of healthcare legislation.
Of course, Trump’s most ardent supporters are still with him. A quick perusal of /r/The_Donald, a Reddit group dedicated to Trump, showed typical fealty. Breitbart has some stories on the topic but nothing particularly notable. Fox News did the usual Fox News stuff. Trump’s base is impressively loyal.
But outside of his base, it’s all pretty ugly for Trump. He’s now the subject of broad criticism from a segment of culture that reaches a lot of people—plenty of whom might not pay that much attention to politics. Trump’s attacks on the media have helped insulate him from a lot of criticism, but now he’s even got the Terry Bradshaws of the world on him.
This could end up as just another controversy in the long, near-constant drone of Trump controversies. Trump has called Mexicans rapists, been recorded bragging about the sexual assault of women, or plenty more. Those things didn’t prevent him from being elected, and it’s hard to imagine that lobbing some insults at athletes will do much now that he’s president.
Or maybe it will make a difference. Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin had one of the most thoughtful reactions to the situation and why it just might matter.
“Although these recent comments are not the worst things he’s said or done, I do believe that this will be unifying moment for the sports world,” Baldwin wrote. “And with as much influence as athletes have on the younger generation, this can be an opportunity for us to change the narrative of society and point to the president as a poor example of what you can become if you remain close minded, ignorant and uneducated.”
Baldwin’s point is relevant beyond the current controversy. This has been a unifying moment for the sports world, and Trump is proving capable of creating those moments for just about anything he touches.
There’s just not that many other groups left. Trump is running out of people to piss off. And that might come back to haunt him.