Donald Trump Jr. Acknowledges NFL’s Brain Injury Link, a Problem His Father Likes to Mock

Donald Trump Jr.’s entrance into the argument around NFL player protests against racism provoked by his father last Friday night was at once entirely predictable and curious.

“If only Roger Goodell cared as much about domestic abuse and traumatic brain injury as he does about disrespecting America.” Donald Jr. tweeted on Monday, attacking the NFL Commissioner for a perceived lack of action over players kneeling during the national anthem. The NFL’s game operations manual states the league “may discipline” players who aren’t on the field by the start of the national anthem. That would include every member of the Pittsburgh Steelers apart from Alejandro Villanueva. The Steelers stayed in the locker room during the anthem prior to Sunday’s loss at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears. The NFL, though, has yet to fine any player involved in the protests.

That Donald Jr. believes Goodell is guilty of double standards is hardly surprising. On Monday he tweeted out two stories, one from the Daily Caller that pointed out the NFL prevented the Dallas Cowboys from wearing police-themed decals, the other from Fox Business referencing the NFL fining players for sporting shoes honoring 9/11 victims. The son has been vociferous in his support for the father’s stance on social media.

So perhaps Donald Jr. was deflecting when he tweeted about “traumatic brain injury,” using concussions as a rhetorical tool to hammer on Goodell’s head. Just before he posted that, Donald Jr. retweeted a post apparently mocking those NFL players suffering from brain damage.

 

 

And yet, the post still revealed a level of awareness surrounding concussions that Trump has yet to display. At the same rally in Alabama last Friday where he called on NFL owners to “fire” any player taking a knee during the national anthem, Trump called out football for “ruining” itself by adopting rules designed to limit hits to the head. (Despite what Donald Jr. says, the NFL has made serious attempts under Goodell to protect its players’ brains better). “Today if you hit too hard—15 yards! Throw him out of the game!” Trump said, reported by Sports Illustrated. “They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys, just really, beautiful tackle. Boom, 15 yards! The referee gets on television—his wife is sitting at home, she’s so proud of him. They’re ruining the game! They’re ruining the game. That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game.”

Trump’s comments on player safety came the day after the family of Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end, announced he had committed suicide in prison in April while suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the degenerative brain condition found in more than 100 deceased NFL players in a 2017 study conducted by the Boston University researcher Dr. Ann McKee. Shayanna Jenkins, Hernandez’s wife, plans to sue the NFL and the Patriots on behalf of their daughter for alleged negligence regarding Hernandez’s brain injuries.

Trump’s views on football and brain injury are consistent. At a campaign rally in Lakeland, Florida, in October 2016 the future president used the example of someone fainting in the crowd to pour scorn on the seriousness of concussion. “The woman was out cold and now she’s coming back,” Trump said, as reported by Sports Illustrated. “See? We don’t go by these new, and very much softer, NFL rules. Concussion. Oh, oh! Got a little ding on the head. No, no, you can’t play for the rest of the season. Our people are tough.”

In defending his father over a row about race, Trump Jr. perhaps inadvertently revealed himself to be at least a little wider awake than the president about concussion and brain injury, one of the NFL’s other, permanently looming crises. In these febrile days of their surreal war with America’s sporting institutions, the Trumps will surely cling to what succor they can.

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