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Brett Favre and President Trump discuss keeping sports separate from politics

“Fans clearly do not want political messaging mixed with their sports,” Brett Favre claimed during a town hall event with the president. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

During a town hall taped Tuesday at the White House and aired Wednesday evening, Brett Favre asked President Trump a question about recent efforts made by professional sports leagues to support anti-racist and pro-Black Lives Matter messages. Trump replied that sports should “remain separate” from politics, and claimed that social activism by the NFL and the NBA had cost those leagues dearly in terms of TV ratings.

The president was taking questions from an audience assembled for an episode of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s “America This Week” when host Eric Bolling said that “a friend of mine” insisted on submitting a question via video.

It turned out be the former Green Bay Packers quarterback, who declared, “The NBA and the NFL are struggling with lower ratings, as fans clearly do not want political messaging mixed with their sports.” Favre followed that claim by asking: “So how should the leagues support and promote an anti-racism position without becoming political and alienating fans?”

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Historical racial oppression has been at the forefront of a national conversation since the killing in May of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police, and when the NBA returned to play in July, the league took several steps to raise awareness of systemic racism. “Black Lives Matter” was painted on courts, and players were allowed to wear messages on their jerseys such as I Can’t Breathe, Justice, Enough, Power to the People, Say Her Name, Respect Us, Anti-Racist, I Am A Man and How Many More.

The NFL painted the messages “End racism” and “It takes all of us” in its end zones. Other nods to social justice included allowing teams to honor victims by displaying their names on players’ helmets and allowing coaches to wear patches on their hats with phrases such as “Stop Hate,” “It Takes All Of Us,” “End Racism” and “Black Lives Matter.”

In the past several months, players from the NBA, NFL, NHL and from MLB and MLS have also taken a knee during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality. Those revived demonstrations, after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the anthem in 2016 and inspired other athletes to do the same, in turn garnered condemnations from Trump, who has been criticizing player protests since his presidential candidacy.

During the town hall, after calling Favre “a great guy,” “a champion” and “a winner,” Trump asserted, “People don’t want to see all of the politics. They’ve got enough politics, with me and with everybody else. And they don’t want to see it with football or sports, on Sunday or whenever they happen to be watching."

Trump claimed that ratings for the NBA Finals, which concluded earlier this month with a victory by the Los Angeles Lakers over the Miami Heat, were “down 70 percent, more than that.” He added that “the NFL’s way down.”

According to Sports Media Watch, ratings for the NBA Finals this year were down 49 percent from last year, when they were staged in their traditional May-June period, and were the least-watched on record. Through Week 5, the NFL’s ratings were down 13 percent (per the New York Times).

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Those decreases in viewership likely can’t be attributed entirely to shows of social activism by sports leagues, particularly given that they represent the continuation of years-long trends, which may have been exacerbated during the pandemic.

To Trump, though, the leagues’ forays into social activism have had “a huge negative impact on sports,” as he told the audience.

“I think that football ought to get back to football and basketball to basketball,” he declared. “And let politics remain separate.”

“If people want to protest, they can. But they shouldn’t be protesting on the sidelines during the football game, especially when they are making $10 million a year for something that they’d be doing anyway, for free, if they weren’t in the NFL or in the NBA,” he continued.

Favre has expressed far more admiration for Kaepernick than Trump, a frequent and vehement critic of the former quarterback. He has also offered complimentary words for Trump, with whom he played a round of golf in July.

“I think he’s done a good job for our country,” the Pro Football Hall of Famer said earlier this month (via the Washington Examiner).

In answering Favre’s question about how sports leagues could “promote an anti-racism position without becoming political and alienating fans,” Trump claimed that fans “want to have these players stand and salute, or put their hand over their heart, or at least stand for the national anthem and salute.”

Asked by Bolling what leagues such as the NBA and NFL needed to do “to get President Trump back as a fan,” Trump said, “They’re going to have to start respecting our country. It’s very simple. And you start by respecting our flag."

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