As it happened, Trump’s attack on the players came on the same day that Dwight Clark, the great receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, died of the terrible degenerative nerve disease A.L.S. on Monday. Clark had speculated, with some solid support from science, that his disease might have been caused by the battering he received as a player.
Our president adores going on about his love of toughness. (He had the misfortune to miss his shot at Vietnam. He ran up four years of exemptions while at Wharton, and then he discovered that he had a bone spur in his heel. His doctor, Trump told the Times, wrote “a very strong letter on the heels.”)
So he indulges his inner Emperor Claudius and decries the desire among N.F.L. players to avoid brain-shattering hits. So he complained last September in Alabama that the boys on the field were insufficiently violent.
Trump’s latest rumble has prompted courtiers to run to his aid. I was stuck in John F. Kennedy Airport listening to one banal sort after another defend the president’s right to savage whomever he likes. And Fox News, that most obedient Spaniel, ran a photograph of rebellious Eagles players kneeling.
It turned out those players were not protesting. They were praying to God before the game.
Defensive end Chris Long, one of the most outspoken players on the Eagles last season, took to Twitter to take on Fox. “Imagine wanting to please the boss so very badly that you run stills of guys kneeling down PRAYING during pregame.”
“Keep carrying his water to sow division while misrepresenting Christian men.”
No doubt writers and columnists will emerge as they did last September to argue that to engage Trump is to lose. He has, after all, a visceral feel for who to swing at and how that will play with his crowd.
Perhaps that is so. Perhaps it’s also true that occasionally men and women are obliged to stand and speak, and rarely more so than when a leader of the United States is intent at picking at the nation’s oldest and most painful scabs.