(CNN)The NFL put out a statement on Wednesday denying it had capitulated to President Donald Trump and banned players from kneeling when the National Anthem plays before games.
This remains true, so far as we know, in the abstract. The league has not imposed any formal restrictions. (Yet. There are more meetings planned.) But even as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones threatened on Sunday to bench any player judged to be “disrespecting the flag,” the presidential blitz continues — and it becomes clearer that the NFL and ESPN’s attempts to appease Trump have failed.
ESPN retreated on Monday, suspending SportsCenter host Jemele Hill, who has been critical of Trump on Twitter, following “a second violation of our social media guidelines.” The inciting postscame in response to Jones’ remarks, when she posited that fans who were dismayed by his statement might be wise to quit lining his pockets. (Hill later added that she was “not advocating a NFL boycott.”)
Before his team’s game this weekend, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross flatly admitted that Trump forced the NFL’s hand, saying the President had upended the debate, which began more than a year ago, and distorted the players’ anti-racist, anti-police brutality message.
Trump “changed that whole paradigm of what protest is,” Ross said, according to a report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “And I think it’s incumbent upon the players today, because of how the public is looking at it, to really stand and really salute the flag.”
Dolphins head coach Adam Gase duly made it team policy, beginning on Sunday, for anyone on the field before the game to remain standing for the anthem. Three players who kneeled in the past remained out of sight, in a stadium tunnel. Whether a league-wide edict would halt the wider demonstrations remains an open question.