It’s dangerous to predict anything in the age of Trump, particularly about Trump himself. While Politico recently labeled him Teflon Don, my argument is Donald J. Trump’s NBA and NFL tweets and his assaults on Steph Curry, Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James may stick. In 2020, with most votes already accounted for, the battle may again come down to a few hundred thousand votes in a few swing states. There will be thousands more tweets, and hundreds of battles to go, but Trump may live to regret his disruption in the sports arena.
Here are five reasons.
1. Trump disrupts sports as a safe haven.
As Mark Leibovich reported this weekend in the New York Times, kneeling Jerry Jones, owner of America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys, said, “We are a respite that moves you away from your trials and missteps.”
It’s obvious. Sports is entertainment, and we all want a break from the day-to-day. We root for our local heroes who dig deeper and perform feats mere mortals dream about as we take the buzzer-beater winning the championship at our local gym. Trump is messing with our safe haven.
In a recent CNN poll, when asked about kneeling during "The Star Spangled Banner," respondents agreed with President Trump, 49% saying it was the "wrong thing," while 43% said it was the "right thing." And there is no doubt President Trump cleverly shifted the discussion from race to patriotism, feeding red meat to his base on the heels of chumminess with Chuck and Nancy.
But when the CNN poll asked, "Trump criticizing NFL players for kneeling was____" the response was a dramatic 60% saying it was the "wrong thing" to 34% saying it was the "right thing."
It’s also true that Trump didn’t start either argument. Kaepernick took a knee long before Trump was elected president and the Warriors' Steph Curry announced he wasn’t going to the White House before being disinvited by Trump via tweet.
Sports fans simply don't need or want Trump's two cents.
2. Trump has met his match on social media.
In the sport of politics, according to Twitaholic.com, only Barack Obama has more Twitter followers than Donald J. Trump. Obama crushes Trump at number three behind Justin Bieber (#2) and Katy Perry (#1) with 93,737,503 followers — even if you count Trump's two Twitter accounts: Donald J. Trump (#23) at 39,400,890 and President Trump (#75) at 20,259,752.
Sports are another matter.
In the NBA, King James (#23) is neck-and-neck with Donald J. Trump, Kevin Durant (#102) hugs the top 100, and Shaq (#132), Kobe (#172), Steph Curry (#238), Carmelo Anthony (#320), Dwayne Wade (#439), Dwight Howard (#459), Chris Paul (#483), Pau Gasol (#503), Russell Westbrook (#846), Manu Ginobili (#850), Paul Pierce (#931), and yes, Lamar Odom (#972) break the top 1,000.
While NFL players are less represented, that’s a lot of NBA star power tweeting your way, with the bulk of it negative for President Trump.
3. The Donald is President, but LeBron is the King.
LeBron James is the second most famous athlete in the world, behind soccer star Cristiano Renaldo. This is not the abrasive LeBron James of Miami, either. LeBron has settled in, brought a championship to his hometown of Cleveland, and has single-handedly willed every team he's played on to the NBA finals a ridiculous seven years in a row. He is a family man, recently reunited with his bro Dwayne Wade and has matured into an increasingly respected political voice.
Bet against the King at your peril.
4. Steph Curry is beloved.
Steph Curry’s name is on more jerseys across America than any other player. He crosses over with fans of every race, color and creed. Everyone loves Steph. His team, the Golden State Warriors, current NBA World Champions, have changed the game, set new standards for the sport and displayed awe-inspiring athleticism. Your mouth simply drops when Curry casually lofts another shot from midcourt—swish.
Steph Curry is the Tom Hanks of the NBA. If you don’t like Tom Hanks, the question is simply, what's your problem? Ditto Steph Curry, with his killer smile. If you are on Steph’s bad side, Trump, it’s on you.
5. The owners who took a knee.
I point you to one of the more impassioned and full-throated condemnations of President Trump—not by Charles Blow of the New York Times or Cory Booker of the United States Senate. No, this is Shannon Sharpe, three-time Super Bowl winner with the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens and currently co-host on FS1 of “Undisputed” with Skip Bayless.
Sharpe was brutal in his condemnation of NFL owners who stood silent while President Trump insulted war veterans, the disabled and Mexican immigrants, yet found the courage to join fellow players to take a knee when the president dared tell them how to run their businesses and risk their precious bottom line.
Jerry Jones, who took a knee at midfield with his team during a Monday Night Football game, and the six other owners who donated to Trump's inauguration are not the folks who come to mind when thinking about Black Lives Matter or progressive causes. And yet, Trump is mocking their attendance and advising them on policy and player relations.
Owners are saying, Thanks, Donald, but no thanks.
We are not yet a year in. President Trump promised to Make America Great Again, not to make Americans grate their teeth again, and again and again.
My sports bet is on the average fan, who wants to sit down in his lounger, pop a Bud, and escape from a week’s worth of work problems, unpaid bills, car repairs, cranky kids and daily stresses. He wants to root for the home team, revel in athletic achievement and chill. Maybe, just maybe, enough of the fans will say, This guy Trump is just too much noise, invading every nook and cranny of my life. We have 24-hour sports radio, and that’s enough for me.