From Vice President Mike Pence’s own protest of national anthem protests — labeled a “PR stunt” by one player — to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ claim he won’t let members of his team play if they “are disrespecting the flag” to retired announcer Brent Musburger’s jab at Colin Kaepernick’s old club, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is somehow STILL a subject of NFL conversation.
Hard to believe, yet here we are, more than two weeks after President Donald Trump brought up the matter out of the blue at a rally in Alabama.
Pence left the Indianapolis Colts’ 26-23 victory over visiting San Francisco on Sunday after about a dozen 49ers players took a knee during the anthem — and Trump tweeted that he told his VP to do that.
San Francisco safety Eric Reid said he thought the whole thing looked phony.
“He knew our team has had the most players protest, he knew that we were probably going to do it again,” Reid said. “This is what systemic oppression looks like: Man with power comes to the game, tweets a couple things out and leaves the game in an attempt to thwart our efforts.”
Kaepernick, now out of the league, was a 49ers quarterback when he began kneeling during the anthem in the preseason more than a year ago as a way of objecting to racial injustice and police brutality. Some players followed his lead, but only about a half-dozen were doing it until Trump’s declaration that NFL players should be fired for such actions prompted more widespread displays around the league.
Sunday’s loss dropped the 49ers to 0-5 this season, prompting this tweet from Musburger aimed at the team: “Since you instigated protest, 2 wins and 19 losses. How about taking your next knee in the other team’s end zone?”
Several team owners have been big Trump backers, and Jones is one. So maybe no one should be too stunned that after Dallas lost to the Green Bay Packers 35-31 on Aaron Rodgers’ 12-yard TD pass to Davante Adams with 11 seconds left, Jones became the first owner to publicly announce he will take action against players who kneel or sit during the anthem.
“The whole deal is political and incited by politics. But let me be real, real clear: The thing that the National Football League needs to do and the Dallas Cowboys are going to do is stand for the flag. We’re going to do that,” Jones said.
“If there’s anything that is disrespectful to the flag,” he added, “then we will not play. OK? Understand?”
The NFL had nothing to say about any of this, but the players’ union did issue a statement, which read in part: “We should not stifle these discussions and cannot allow our rights to become subservient to the very opinions our Constitution protects. That is what makes us the land of the free and home of the brave.”
In case you missed it, here are the other top topics after the NFL season’s fifth Sunday:
There is, of course, an inevitability about injuries in a sport as inherently violent as football, but it’s striking nonetheless when so many players depart, one after another after another: Odell Beckham Jr.’s broken left ankle made him the fourth — yes, fourth! — New York Giants wide receiver to leave a 27-22 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers; J.J. Watt’s broken left leg sent him to the hospital and made him the third — third! — player to leave unbeaten Kansas City’s 42-34 victory over Houston by the end of the opening — yes, opening! — drive. Watt joined Houston’s Whitney Mercilus (chest) and Kansas City’s Steven Terrell (concussion) on the sideline. Later, one of the NFL’s top tight ends, Kansas City’s Travis Kelce, was evaluated for a concussion, and Chiefs WR Chris Conley was carted off with an apparent leg injury. OBJ, meanwhile, cried and used his jersey to cover his face as he was driven off the Giants’ field. Fellow Giants WRs Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall each sprained an ankle on one drive in the second quarter, and Dwayne Harris broke his foot on a kickoff return. Just one last thought on injuries: The Raiders , minus QB David Carr, and the Titans , minus QB Marcus Mariota, looked terrible in defeat.
ARE THE JAGS FOR REAL?
A defense stacked with talented players such as A.J. Bouye, Jalen Ramsey, Telvin Smith, Yannick Ngakoue and Myles Jack, and rookie running back Leonard Fournette could make the Jacksonville Jaguars relevant (and, not incidentally, Blake Bortles irrelevant). Five interceptions, including a pair of pick-6s on consecutive drives, and Fournette’s 181-yard, 2-TD day helped Jacksonville hammer Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-9 . Two key stats: At 3-2, the Jaguars already have equaled last season’s victory total, while surpassing last season’s takeaway total (15 to 13).
The No. 1 overall pick in April’s NFL draft finally made his debut in Week 5 and didn’t wait long to make himself noticed: Browns DE Myles Garrett got a sack on his first snap in the league. Added a second sack, too, in Cleveland’s 17-14 loss to the Jets. The No. 2 pick is also set to finally play: QB Mitchell Trubisky will start for the Chicago Bears against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich