ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith: Trump is targeting NFL as revenge for not letting him in

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said Monday that President Trump has “successfully hijacked” the issue of National Football League players kneeling during the national anthem because NFL owners refused to let him join the league in the 1980s.

Smith said on ESPN’s “First Take” that Trump’s attacks on the NFL are retribution for Trump’s failed attempts to have the United States Football League (USFL) merge with the NFL in the 1980s.

{mosads}Trump owned the New Jersey Generals and pushed to merge the USFL with the NFL before the former league shut down. He also attempted to buy the Buffalo Bills in 2014, but his bid fell short.

“His real agenda is going at the NFL community that didn’t let him in that good old boys club,” Smith said. “They didn’t let him in in the 1980s when he was an owner in the USFL. He has a history of exacting retribution to those who didn’t make him money.”

Smith added that Trump had redirected the focus of the protests from that of racial inequality to being about the American flag and national anthem.

NFL free agent Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem last season to protest racial inequality.

Players across the league have since taken up Kaepernick’s protest, drawing ire from those who think they are disrespecting the American flag.

“The president has successfully hijacked this issue,” Smith said. “He turned it into an issue about patriotism and beyond. He is catering to his base in the process.”

The host called on NFL players to find a new way to protest racial injustice on the field because Trump “has turned it into something the players didn’t intend to.”

“They have to find a different mechanism to have their voices heard. Because Trump has won this round,” Smith said.

Trump began attacking players who kneel during the national anthem last month, calling for NFL owners to fire players who take part in the demonstrations and for people to walk out of games where players are kneeling.

Vice President Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game Sunday after several San Francisco 49ers players knelt during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Trump later tweeted that he had asked Pence to leave if he saw players protesting during the anthem.

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