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Tim Benz: Protests backfired on NFL owners, Roger Goodell

| Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, 8:57 p.m.

On Friday night, President Donald Trump sent out a tweet warning Kim Jong-un that he may not be “around much longer,” and referred to him as “Little Rocket Man.”

On Saturday morning, Trump sent out a tweet calling for the NFL to “fire or suspend” players who don't stand for the national anthem.

As of Monday afternoon the tweet about the NFL had a total of 61,000 more comments, likes and retweets.

To be clear, the President of the United States of America openly threatening and mocking a maniacal dictator who is itching to launch a nuclear missile was only the SECOND-BIGGEST story of the weekend.

OK, the Steeler run defense was really bad, too. So maybe the third biggest.

But that's where we are.

That's how big of a story this NFL protest thing really is. More people are reacting to Trump bashing the NFL than they are about something he said which, in pre-social media times, might have been enough to ignite the Cold War.

Sorry Supreme Leader, you're second-fiddle to Colin Kaepernick.

Is that a sad commentary on how much emphasis we put on sports as opposed to international relations?

Maybe.

But it's also a commentary on how immune we have become to Trump for his political tweets as opposed to his “hot sports takes.”

So did the President simply Twitter-troll the entire NFL to curry favor with his supporters ... and win? Was he just begging for a reaction ... and got one?

It seems that way.

I get why the players reacted with loud voices and increased protests. After all, it was them he pejoratively referred to as “S.O.B's” in that speech in Alabama on Friday night.

And because the players likely were going to react, I also understand why commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners responded as openly and staunchly as they did.

In some cases symbolically through press releases, and at other times literally, linking arms with their players on the sidelines.

“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities,” Goodell said.

So, there you have it. Donald Trump. The Great Uniter. Who knew?

But for all that went right in that regard, did volleying back with the president backfire on the owners and Goodell?

More precisely, did that happen with Art Rooney II and his Steelers?

Chicago fans derisively were chanting “USA, USA!” at the Steelers bench after the Bears scored their first touchdown Sunday.

It was like the Black and Gold were somehow the Russian hockey team allowing a goal in Lake Placid.

Some people have started calling the team the “Kneel-ers,” burning Steelers jerseys and threatening to return season tickets.

Could this have been avoided if owners and the league office allowed Trump's bluster to roll off their backs like so many of us did with, well, threats of a nuclear winter?

Probably.

But these are NFL owners we are talking about here. This is Roger Goodell. This is a league and a commissioner that have often acted as if they were bigger than the office of the White House itself in recent years.

No one of Trump's stature is going to tell men of their stature what to do without a lot of chests being puffed out.

For NFL brass, backlash against individual players was easy to ignore. But backlash against their team logos and the shield are bigger matters. Despite that, owners and Park Avenue collectively decided to side with their union and against the White House in a belief they were protecting the game.

“Each team made their own decisions. Each team thought that they would talk among their own players. The owners I thought did a great job handling it,” defensive captain Cam Heyward said.

But as is the case with most things political, as the owners were unifying with the players, they may have been alienating half of their fan bases. That seems to be especially the case for Rooney II given how his team's absence on the sidelines became magnified outside of Pittsburgh with that now-famous picture of Army veteran Al Villaneuva standing alone in front of his team.

So what's the lesser of two evils? Ticking off the fans who line their pockets? Or the players whose pockets are lined by them? In this case, they went with the former.

That's noble. And it may be forward thinking in terms of relationships with the players.

But the ramifications of standing by what you believe in may be long-lasting.

Just ask Kaepernick.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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