NFL flag issue has divided the sport and the US

NFL flag issue has divided the sport and the US

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Perhaps it was apt that it fell to the NFL franchise known as “America’s Team” to deliver the ultimate verdict.

The country was watching how the Dallas Cowboys, the league’s best-supported team, loved and loathed by Americans in equal measure, would address the controversy over the flag.

:: Trump – kneeling row had nothing to do with race

In the end the entire line-up, including owner and Trump supporter Jerry Jones, struck a balance: kneeling briefly before the national anthem but standing during it.

Still, the boos rang down from the stands, an illustration of how this issue has divided a sport and a country.

The Cowboys’ Monday Night Football game against the Arizona Cardinals came after a weekend on which 200 players made their feelings about their President clear.

Trump’s profane call for players who do not stand during the anthem to be fired has inflamed an issue which has been simmering for a year.

It started when San Francisco 49ers star Colin Kaepernick staged a one-man protest over police brutality against the black community.

Last weekend, days before Trump raised the issue, just four players knelt in protest before NFL games. Now it is a full-blown controversy.

The President has not backed down in his views – far from it, tweeting repeated calls for players to “respect the flag”.

He insists it is not about race but for many Americans it is entirely about that.

The fact that the military provide the honour guard for the flag at NFL games has added an extra emotive element to the controversy.

And supporters admit they are conflicted about the protest and their President’s response.

Dallas fans Victor Goldman and Albert Rios both served in the US military.

“Why the national anthem and why the flag?” asked Goldman.

“It is not that I oppose what they are doing, I just don’t understand it.”

Rios added: “I served my country and I love my country.

“I served it for one purpose only: to make sure that every American has the right and the freedom to express whatever they want.”

He said that Donald Trump also had that right to freedom of expression.

Arizona fans Moses Perez and Tony Rodriguez have known each other since school and they have very different views on the controversy.

Perez said: “If it makes them feel better I guess they have the right to do it because it is their freedom.

“But I believe it is highly disrespectful to kneel to the national anthem and not respect your country.”

Rodriguez disagrees: “To me they are not doing it in a disrespectful manner.

“They are just doing it to draw attention to the big problem, which is the social injustice going on in this country.”

There is no doubt Trump has opened up a culture war that would appear, on the surface, to be un-winnable.

But how many times have we said that during his presidency?

(c) Sky News 2017: NFL flag issue has divided the sport and the US