By MARK KNUDSON     @MarkKnudson41     Special to WoodyPaige.com

We in the sports media are continually told we should “stick to sports.” That’s pretty much impossible these days, isn’t it?

We have a President who likes to pick fights. He does it to feed his ego, stimulate his shrinking voter base and distract from his failures when it comes to the actual tasks of governing. He believes trying to bully certain groups of people will make him more popular with other groups; his popularity being the single most important thing in his world. It’s so important to him that he had his VP fly across the country and back just to pull a publicity stunt at an NFL game. This President thought that would make him look good.

We also have the wildly popular NFL, and an ever growing group of professional football players who each resent said President calling them a “son of a bitch.” They won’t be bullied. By taking a knee during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner, most are simply taking a public and peaceful stance against unnecessary violence in our communities, including heinous acts committed by a very tiny percentage of overzealous police officers. Despite what this President falsely claims, the player’s protests have nothing to do with disrespecting our military or our flag.

We ALSO have a group of very wealthy NFL owners and administrators, few (if any) of whom can actually relate to the cause these players are supporting, but all of whom know that the players most certainly aren’t “sons of bitches” and are in fact (in the vast majority of cases) tremendously important and productive members of their communities.

Since the President decided back on September 23rd to fan the flames of discord for his own perceived benefit, the blowback has landed squarely in the laps of the owners. They’re the ones now caught in the middle. As wealthy businessmen, many supported the candidacy of this President for all same reasons they’ve supported others before him who have vowed to reduce their tax burden now and the future. While that’s yet to happen, what HAS happened is that he’s now openly attacking their product. What do they do?

Up until now, the owners have done the right thing: Supported their valued employees (and the First Amendment) by allowing the players the necessary freedom to express their views in a peaceful manner. These mild protests have not in any way impacted the games themselves. Everyone involved hoped that by letting the players have their say and supporting their right to do so, that the protests would have gradually run their course with the players feeling they had made their point. The natural progression would be for the players to eventually stand up and increase their peaceful activism within the communities to try to make a real difference.

Things were moving in that direction before this President opened his mouth and inserted his foot. Since his “SOB’s” comment, the protests have grown and grown – in many cases just to spite him. Backlash that would have never occurred has now put the owners in a corner. Forget the President – $ponsors don’t want the protests. Fans don’t want the protests.

Money talks. Predictably, the league and the owners are now planning to implement a new policy that requires players to stand for the national anthem. One owner has already promised to bench or cut any player who doesn’t. (Not quite sure he’d be willing to back up that claim, depending on the player(s) in question…) Unfortunately, if the league does indeed make standing for the anthem mandatory, the owners will be giving the impression that they’re reversing their previous stance and siding with this ego-driven bully President, which will be perceived by most as being a slap in the face of the players.

Standing for the playing of the national anthem is a sports-wide tradition and will always be. How it became a political football of this magnitude is baffling. The originator of the protest is now an out of work (former) quarterback who has long since moved past the act of taking a knee and has actually been taking meaningful action instead. He’s become an activist instead of an in-activist and has given time and a million dollars of his own money to meaningful causes (which is far more than this President or VP have done.)

Had the (former) quarterback been (rightfully) brought back into the league, and the President not decided to foolishly seize what he saw as an opportunity to enhance his own standing with hard liners, it’s likely that this form of protest would have run its course a long time ago. Instead, we now have a matter that’s likely to become part of a protracted labor-management battle that will come to a head in 2021. The leader of the NFL Players Union, an African-American lawyer, had already been primed to take up the hot button issue of player discipline with the NFL hierarchy during those upcoming collective bargaining talks. Now, the anthem protest issue will become part of that bigger picture moving forward and will make those negotiations all the more contentious.

Because what the country needs now is more bickering and divisiveness, right? “Stick to sports” we’re told. We’d love to.