Roger Goodell

Joe Maddon feels the heat from White House comments and rethinks Trump vs. sports world

Joe Maddon feels the heat from White House comments and rethinks Trump vs. sports world

MILWAUKEE – Sticking to sports becomes impossible when Donald Trump calls protesting NFL players sons of b------ and feuds with NBA superstars Stephen Curry and LeBron James on Twitter while the University of North Carolina’s national championship men’s basketball team declines a White House invitation (scheduling conflict) and Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell takes a knee during the national anthem.

All that happened within 24-plus hours, a head-spinning news cycle that will not stop. It’s impossible to escape for a high-profile organization with political connections like the Cubs.

That’s how manager Joe Maddon wound up feeling the heat in Miller Park’s visiting dugout before Sunday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, clarifying his comments to the Chicago Sun-Times that went viral: “It’s dangerous when folks in our country stop respecting the White House and the seat of the president.”

“What would you like me to say?” Maddon said. “I’ve read it all and I’m saying it’s understandable why these people – why the players – jumped back at him the way they did. It’s very understandable, absolutely. I had no idea.”

The Sun-Times asked Maddon for a reaction minutes after Saturday afternoon’s 10-inning, playoff-intensity loss to the Brewers as the media session was breaking up in the manager’s office inside the visiting clubhouse. That quote appeared deep within a longer story headlined: “Sports world revolts: LeBron James, Roger Goodell fire back at Trump.”    

“I had no idea what the president had said prior to being asked that question,” Maddon said, “so I wasn’t commenting on what the president had said. When (the reporter) asked me that question, I had no idea it was in that context whatsoever.”

The Cubs angle: The World Series champs starred in the final official White House event for President Barack Obama on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A group of players, staffers and executives returned for an Oval Office photo op with Trump on June 28, a side trip in the middle of a likely playoff preview against the Washington Nationals.        

Curry already made it clear that he would vote against the Golden State Warriors making a ceremonial visit to Trump’s White House. After Trump tweeted that he withdrew Curry’s championship invitation, Maddon told the Sun-Times: “With all due respect to everybody, I just believe that we need to get our acts together collectively, all of us.”

“I had no idea what he said,” Maddon said during Sunday’s pregame briefing. “I had no idea what was said. How would I? I had no idea what was said prior to (getting asked) that question.

“My response is typical: I always respect the office and the White House and the seat of the president, like I said before we had attended. That was what my response was about. It had nothing to do with the situation yesterday.”

Maddon backtracked and said he has no issues with LeBron using his @KingJames account to support Curry, call Trump “a bum” and tell his 38.5 million Twitter followers: “Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

“I’ve always spoken what’s on my mind,” Maddon said, “and I’ve always respected other people doing the same. It’s that simple. I just did not know the context of the question yesterday at all.

“And then I read about it last night when I got back to my room. And I could understand what all the uproar was about, easily. But I had no idea after the game that’s what had been said.”

Maddon wore a black turtleneck and an olive coat to the White House in January and enjoyed seeing Obama, who gave him a shout-out during the East Room ceremony: “Let’s face it, there are not a lot of coaches or managers who are as cool as this guy. Look how he looks right now.”

Maddon also eagerly posed with Trump, a meeting set up through Cubs ownership and the Ricketts family’s influence within Republican politics. Maddon also aligned himself that week with a childhood friend from Pennsylvania, Congressman Lou Barletta, an early Trump supporter who recently announced a Senate campaign.

“Again, I have respect for the government of the United States,” Maddon said. “I have respect for the office. I have respect for the seat of the presidency. When it comes down to individual battles, I have nothing to do with that.

“All I’m saying is that I understand why the players responded the way they did. After I read the comments, it was very clear why they would respond the way they did.

“It’s just unfortunate we’ve arrived at this point where it’s so easy to have this dialogue between the highest office in the country and everybody else in such a negative way. That’s the part that’s really disappointing.”          

Leaving politics out of Super Bowl week not a cop out for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

Leaving politics out of Super Bowl week not a cop out for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

This is complicated, if only because it is not difficult to take either side of the argument with some measure of honest conviction.
 
Earlier Wednesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell joined players, coaches and others in his sport in staying the interview course around, not into, the growing morass of our American political situation, “morass” seeming to be an apt term for things regardless of which side of any current issue you find yourself. 
 
Goodell, as Tom Brady, Mohamed Sanu and others intoned this week when queried about something Donald Trump, passed. “I’m singularly focused on the Super Bowl right now,” Goodell said. Saying that the game “will bring the world together” may have been a spot of hyperbole, but not quite the way some have construed it.
 
Don’t know about you, but this Child of the ‘60’s was OK with that.
 
The Super Bowl is nothing less than perhaps the pinnacle pulpit from which to spread the word, any word. Maybe World Cup finals, but in this country, this is it.
 
And frankly, right now, we need a timeout.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
 
People yelling at each other is not the same thing as meaningful conversation or dialogue, and right now it’s all yelling. Anybody else need a couple hours’ respite this Sunday?
 
Sports, celebrity in general, can provide a pulpit. Muhammad Ali, John Wayne, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kid Rock, and a very, very long list of prominent figures have used their stature to speak on things that matter more than their normal venue, agree with them or not.
 
It can also be neutral ground, with nothing more acrimonious between two folks than whether Brady or Joe Montana is the greatest single quarterback in history. 
 
This isn’t about avoiding issues, and I don’t know Goodell’s mindset or true level of belief that a football game will bring two sides — Democrats/Republicans, Falcons/Patriots fans, name it — together, let alone the world. Putting venom and vitriol on “Pause” is not the same as hitting “Stop.” Call it a cease-fire, if you need a more universal handle for it.
 
One casualty of runaway invective is that before long it feels as though there is absolutely nothing in common to be had between sides. A classic Super Bowl commercial — I’m still going with “Mean Joe Greene” and the kid — isn’t exactly a bridge-builder but sometimes sports actually can be what it really in fact is: a diversion.
 
My sister once was heading out on a Monday morning for a major job situation in Kansas City. I got a frantic call the Sunday night before she was leaving: “Quick, tell me all you can about the Chiefs!” Turns out the group she was meeting were KC fans. The Chiefs were a great icebreaker.
 
Goodell hasn’t always done even a passable job of handling delicate situations. This time, with Las Vegas, Deflategate, San Diego and other mines in NFLWorld, leaving an already overheated political climate on the sidelines for a day or two works for me.