NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Before every game last year, ESPN reporters were asked to monitor any sign of protest connected to the national anthem, and send word of it to HQ. Editors gathered it all and put out a roundup in a file we were told got a lot of traffic.

And the Twitter timelines of the contributors filled up. Enough already, many of you told us, we don’t care, we don’t want this as part of our NFL coverage every Sunday. We passed on that sentiment and continued to get the assignment.AnthemCAR

On my own, I’ve written one piece about the “anthem issue,” as Titans defensive linemen DaQuan Jones felt he was misportrayed when he spoke to ESPN and they blew up a story about how he didn’t want to get labeled as the next Colin Kaepernick.

Otherwise, in the efforts of this site to steer clear of the political and as there has been nothing new, I’ve left it alone.

But President Trump’s comments in Alabama on Friday night ignited the whole issue in a way where he’s made it inescapable. He said players who kneel during the national anthem

should be fired by their owner, who would then become immensely popular. He said fans should bolt from games if they see even one guy doing it. 

That set off a flurry of responses from teams and players around the league, including Titans receiver Rishard Matthews and controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk.

NFL ratings are down for a number of reasons, and the anthem protests are one of them, though it remains hard for me to believe there are a lot of fans who like to watch pro football but turn it off or have changed their habit over this. Thanks to the president there is now-- at least for the time being -- no sidestepping the topic. Football has been further politicized, stirring a range of emotions from fans.

To illustrate, two tweets in reply to Stunk’s statement:

The country will be watching to see how players respond before the games today. I just watched the anthem in London before Ravens and Jaguars, where some knelt and many others locked arms.

After the Titans play the Seahawks today, we will have to ask them to reflect on the president's comments and their anthem actions. Many people will hate those questions and replies and stories. It will give new amplitude to the conversation of which they've grown tired.

There is simply no avoiding it.

UPDATE:

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