Four years ago Donald Trump made the National Football League crawl in his inimitably brutish fashion, and it worked. Trump took on Colin Kaepenick's world view as it relates to police brutality and social injustice, distort-o-tweeted it on a daily basis and made it not only a campaign issue leading with the charming phrase "that son of a bitch" and scared the 32 NFL owners into blackballing Kaepernick and stifling both his message and his knees in one breathtaking swoop of institutional cowardice.
And now, four years later, we're right back where we started — except four years' worse off, four years angrier, and four years readier for things to just collapse under the weight of the accumulated rot.
Evidently he's saving the "son of a bitch" stuff until after tonight's speech.
But Trump putting out a greatest hits album now does put Goodell in an interesting spot, and by "interesting" we mean either "career-changing" or "career-ending spot."
When (yes, when) Trump calls him out, does Goodell back down by either remaining silent or modifying his already-diluted apology? Do the team owners back his play or leave him to dangle? Was it the owners' play to begin with? Does he quit the job and leave us to figure out why, or let us make the obvious inference? Does he now face a player protest that might include either defiance or even refusal to work?
And if that last one happens, what do DeMaurice Smith and the union hierarchy do given the same choices Goodell faces?
Kind of makes the new Giannis Antetokounmpo-for-Klay Thompson navel gaze/peyote binge seem… well, even stupider than it would have seemed if Trump had worked on his speech instead of his capitalization skills, doesn't it?
This is the politics of the age of insanity, across the country and without exception. COVID cases in Florida are spiking at the same time that the NBA is announcing its temporary home base is… Florida, where social beat distancing, 148-95. That could change by July, and Adam Silver is largely believed to have the team owners' trust on if/when to blow up the plan and call the season a wash. In other words, expect no reaction from the league on the new case numbers.
The NFL, though, is where the action is today because Goodell took a turn toward understanding On-Fire America, and Trump smelled the return of a cultural wedge issue he thinks makes him slightly more electable. And now we have the mega-game of chicken between the biggest entertainment business in the nation and a guy who never liked a suicide mission he couldn't pilot. Trump is gambling that Goodell's bosses don't have the stomach for a true groin-kicking street fight, with the evidence of 2016 as sufficient backup.
So here we are, with a choice between the NFL representing progressives (and that alone should get you to a meeting) and Trump's need for a culture spitfight to shore up his re-election campaign. Goodell on his own stands little chance here, which means his employers will have be with him, visually and vocally, and even then it will be an unpleasant slog.
But if the NFL is playing this year before greatly reduced or even non-crowds entirely, thus minimizing the potential financial and optic damage, this might be the best time to test the theory of whose spine is thicker, whose skin is thornier and whose regard for civility is lower.
If the nation's viability weren't in such danger, this billionaire bloodbath would make great viewing. Roger Goodell and his people just have to accept the fight. So yeah, that's Dana White on line two with some promotional ideas.