Sunday could be an interesting day for national anthems.
Bright and early, 10 a.m., we kick off with a game featuring the vice-presidential-snit-inducing 49ers.
VP Mike Pence attended the 49ers’ last game and was shocked, shocked to see that members of the team that started the yearlong protest were still taking a knee during the anthem. Pence stormed out in a well-orchestrated huff.
Oh, and the game is in Washington, D.C., so surely President Donald Trump will check it out. Forty-Niners movement leader Eric Reid says the team has told him there will be no repercussions for protesting. So what will the team do?
Meanwhile, the First Man is taking a victory lap, announcing that he has once again bent an opponent to his will. This week Trump’s buddy, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, announced that any player who didn’t stand for the anthem would be benched.
And, Trump tweet-crowed, “the NFL is finally demanding that all players STAND,” for the anthem.
But that’s neglecting an extensive list of not-so-fast’s.
First, the ever-cautious NFL office issued a statement saying, essentially, the president is full of it.
“Commentary this morning about the Commissioner’s position on the anthem is not accurate,” it said.
The league explained they didn’t say players “must” stand. They said they “should” stand. If you’d like to spend time debating the difference, be my guest. We’re moving on.
Second, Jones is admitting that Trump badgered him with phone calls — four in one day — exhorting him to demand that players stand.
Finally Jones — what other explanation is there? — folded like a cheap accordion.
Hopefully Jones has a chiropractor on staff, because he has corkscrewed himself into several unhealthy positions. It began three weeks ago, when — with a national Monday Night Football audience watching — he knelt with his players on the field before the anthem.
A week later, he did a 180 and announced that anyone who “disrespected” the flag wouldn’t play. Since he didn’t specify what “disrespect” was, he seemed to have a little wiggle room.
Then this week, he came up with his stand-or-be-benched edict.
In a true mind-bender, Jones is now trying to float the concept that he is threatening the players with suspension for their own good.
“I want them,” Jones said on his weekly radio show, “to have the ammunition to tell anybody that asks them to do anything otherwise or demonstrate during that period of time that ‘I don’t get to play if I do that.’”
Jones owner-splained to his employees that he was doing this to take the heat in place of them. He was willing, he said, to be a villain.
Then, having thrown that sweat sock into the punch bowl, Jones reminded everyone that this is a bye week for the Cowboys, so he doesn’t have to worry about what happens Sunday. See ya. Hope it all works out. Profile in courage, Jerry.
However, the me-too’s among other owners have been conspicuously absent. If the league office isn’t requiring standing — and it isn’t — it is up to the individual owners.
The 49ers, as noted, support the players. New England owner Robert Kraft called Trump’s comments “inflammatory” and told players they were “free to do what they thought was correct.”
Jacksonville owner Shahid Khan, who gave $1 million to the Trump campaign, said this week that the president is saying “that if you exercise your First Amendment (rights) you’re not a patriot, which is crazy. I think what we’re seeing is the great divider overcoming the great uniter.”
As it happens, there is an NFL owners meeting in New York this week. You can bet the proprietors will be arriving with strong opinions. There is talk of passing a rule that players must stand, but would they really risk deliberately opening a rift with the players?
The fact is, the pregame protests were becoming less and less news-buzzy as the season unfolded.
Then Trump called the protesters SOBs at a red-meat rally. The next week, the player protesters grew from a handful to more than 200 and the story was back in the headlines.
The controversy has produced some unexpected reactions.
One surprise take came from stanch Trump-ophile Rush Limbaugh.
“We don’t want the president being able to demand anybody he’s unhappy with to behave in a way he requires,” Limbaugh said. “That’s scary to me, even if the president is someone I happen to like.”
Then there was this:
“Freedom of expression, including free speech and the media — even speech which some find controversial or uncomfortable — strengthens democracy and needs to be protected. More voices, not fewer, are necessary in challenging times.”
Who wrote that? Colin Kaepernick?
Nope. The U.S. State Department in response to what the agency sees as Turkey’s attempt “to discourage viewpoints critical of the Turkish government.”
All of which sets up the next game for the earnestly protesting 49ers and the stand-or-else Cowboys. Because, if you haven’t checked, they are playing each other next Sunday. In Santa Clara.
Contact C.W. Nevius at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @cwnevius