Donald Trump

Sam Acho on latest Trump, NFL dust-up: ‘I think people need to stop, think and listen’

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USA TODAY

Sam Acho on latest Trump, NFL dust-up: ‘I think people need to stop, think and listen’

Shortly after the NFL announced its updated National Anthem policy last month, Bears linebacker Sam Acho — the team’s union representative — delivered some thoughtful and pointed remarks about the league’s edict.

The Anthem issue again roared back to the headlines after President Donald Trump on Monday dis-invited the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles from their scheduled day at the White House:

Multiple Eagles players disputed the statement’s accuracy (and B-roll Fox News used of Eagles players kneeling, but in prayer before games):

And on Tuesday, Acho had this to say about an issue that seems sure to continue to be escalated by the NFL and President Trump well into this year’s regular season: “You just have to think about it,” Acho said. “Just because they make a statement doesn’t mean it’s true. I could make a statement about anything, that doesn’t mean it’s true. I could sit here and say, ‘The sky is green.’

“That’s why it doesn’t frustrate me. Nor does it surprise me because you see it time and time again. I think when you look at people’s history, you start to see themes. Someone said me once, ‘People show you who they are. It’s up to you whether you believe them or not.’”

For a league that has plenty of intriguing storylines happening on the field — including, potentially, a dynamic Bears’ offense — the issue of the National Anthem appears like it’ll dominate headlines for the coming weeks and months. That’s to say it’s not going away any time soon, or at least as long as the NFL and its players aren’t on the same page.

The reason why players — led by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — began protesting during the National Anthem continues to get lost, as Acho sees it: Far too many people are viewing this as an issue about respecting the troops instead of a movement for social justice reform.

“I think it’s up to people to use common sense, use your intelligence and your brain to think about what the players are actually standing for, what they’re kneeling for or what they’re putting their fist up in the air for,” Acho said. “If you just stop and think, you realize that these players are (doing this) … you hear it’s to fight against injustice.

“I think people need to stop, think and listen. And not be so eager to say, ‘well, because you took a knee, you hate the military …’ I think that’s sophomoric thinking. It’s just too simple.”

The NFL’s ruling in May on the Anthem didn’t — and won’t — deter players like Acho from continuing to speak up for what they believe. Neither will tweets from the President. For Acho, these social justice efforts are all about using his fame and his high profile to make a difference.

“As a player in the NFL, people call us modern-day kings, celebrities, whatever you want to say,” Acho said. “Once you have this kind of platform, you have to use it. You can’t shy away from it. Different people use it in different ways. I am going to continue use my platform to speak up for social justice and speak up for people who can’t speak up for themselves. It would be wrong of me not to. To whom much is given much is required.”

Men vs. Boys: How Nationals showed Cubs the way to build a heavyweight contender

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AP

Men vs. Boys: How Nationals showed Cubs the way to build a heavyweight contender

WASHINGTON – What are the odds the Cubs would win the World Series and Donald Trump would become president before the Washington Nationals won a playoff series?

We can only imagine the reaction if Dale Sveum heard that apocalyptic postgame question on Sept. 6, 2012, when the Cubs manager summed up a four-game sweep at Nationals Park like this: “That’s just men playing against boys right now.”

This was nearing the end of Year 1 for the Theo Epstein administration, when the light at the end of the tunnel felt more like a bridge to nowhere.

Now the Cubs are the defending World Series champs. Epstein’s baseball operations group continues a tradition of playing pickup basketball before each playoff series, posing for pictures on Thursday with Patrick Ewing on the Georgetown campus. And Washington is the team that has to prove it can handle the pressure in the best-of-five National League Division Series that begins Friday night at Nationals Park.

That alternative reality would have sounded absolutely bonkers while watching the Cubs and Nationals that September.

“I showed (Kyle) Schwarber like three days ago,” said catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello, his face lighting up with recognition. “We gave up 15 homers in four games. We watched every homer the other day. I said: ‘This is where we were.’”

Sveum got fired, in part, for his brutal honesty after another fifth-place finish in 2013. But he knew all about talent and preparation after: playing with Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor; being on the 1998 New York Yankees team that won 114 games and the first of three straight World Series titles; and helping coach up the iconic “Band of Idiots” on the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

Set aside Jeff Samardzija’s 2-1 loss on Labor Day — another sign the Notre Dame football star could become a 200-inning pitcher and anchor a flip deal for future All-Star shortstop Addison Russell — and the Cubs got outscored 29-8 in three games started by Chris Rusin, Chris Volstad and Justin Germano.

“I’ve never been part of three consecutive games that you were just beyond overmatched,” said Borzello, a Sveum hire who earned four World Series rings as a Yankee staffer. “These homers were not fence-scrapers. It was like: ‘Boom! Boom! Boom!’ It wouldn’t stop. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

General manager Jed Hoyer fired off a long internal memo after that series, detailing how the Nationals were built and how they timed their big moves. In the middle of the 2009 season, as an up-and-coming Red Sox employee, Hoyer had multiple interviews with Nationals ownership for the GM job that went to Chicago guy Mike Rizzo as an internal promotion.

“It was like smacking us in the face,” Hoyer said. “This is what we wanted to become when we were good. We were looking at an adult version, or basically a late-teenage-years version of what we were trying to be.

“Getting destroyed by those guys, I thought, was actually like a great thing for our mentality. Like: ‘Oh, OK, this is how far we are away.’

“But also in 2009, when I was interviewing there, they were dead last, so it doesn’t have to take forever.”

Indeed, the Nationals turned 102- and 103-loss seasons in 2008 and 2009 into No. 1 overall picks Stephen Strasburg (Game 1 starter) and Bryce Harper (2015 NL MVP). Though it hasn’t yet translated into October glory, the Nationals have won between 95 and 98 games and division titles in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017.

Out of that 101-loss season in 2012, the Cubs found their own future NL Rookie of the Year/MVP from Las Vegas: Kris Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, part of a run on hitters that includes Schwarber, the 2014 first-round selection who’s 3-for-3 in playoff appearances and already an October legend.

“It’s crazy,” Schwarber said. “I was lucky enough to come here when we made the playoffs. That’s all I know – winning right now.

“I’m sure there’s other guys in this room that have been part of losing teams, and they don’t ever want to have that feeling again. I know for a fact I don’t ever want to have that feeling of being on a losing team.

“It’s the competitive nature of this game. You want to make it to the playoffs. You want to win the World Series. I’m lucky. I’m fortunate to be a part of this. We just want to keep it going.”

In the same way that the Nationals gave outfielder Jayson Werth a seven-year, $126 million contract after a 93-loss season in 2010 — to change their culture and add championship experience — the Cubs signed big-game pitcher Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million megadeal after a last-place finish in 2014.

Now Werth is appreciating his final days in a Washington uniform, super-agent Scott Boras will market Harper as a free agent after next season, the Nationals don’t know how long Strasburg and Max Scherzer can reasonably stay healthy and the Cubs feel like they are just getting started.

“This team has an opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done for a while,” said Ben Zobrist, last year’s World Series MVP. “There’s been some teams that have dominated those few years in a row. This team, because of all the young players, and because of the resources the club has going forward, has the opportunity to do that for years to come.

“You’re entering the smack-dab middle of a time where you got a lot of young, exciting Cubs players that are going to make their mark for years and years to come. So this is the time to be a Cub fan. If you want to jump on the bandwagon, do it now.”

But to fully appreciate the scope of this teardown, rebuild and potential dynasty, you have to understand “Men vs. Boys.”

“Don’t forget this series, because this is the one that’s going to keep you pushing,” Borzello remembered thinking at the time. “You never want to experience that again.

“It’s more an appreciation of where we are. But to appreciate where we are, you can’t forget where you’ve been. And that is the series that I’ll never forget. That’s where we were.”   

After President Trump’s ‘divisive’ comments, why the Bears locked arms during the national anthem

After President Trump’s ‘divisive’ comments, why the Bears locked arms during the national anthem

President Trump forced every NFL team to respond following comments over the weekend, both on Twitter and at a rally in Alabama, that any NFL player who takes a knee in protest during the national anthem is a “son of a bitch” who should be “fired." Bears chairman George McCaskey and coach John Fox spoke to their team on Saturday and delivered a message that players said was well-received. 

Players felt like the team’s ownership, management and coaching staff had their back, and they determined their response to — as defensive end Akiem Hicks said — “divisive rhetoric” would be to lock arms as a team during the national anthem on Sunday. The Bears saw President Trump’s comments as an attempt to divide them and the rest of the players in the league, so the message they wanted to send was one of unity. 

“To tell us that we don’t have the freedom to speak and to stand on whatever platform that we feel like and voice our opinions, and we have great respect for our country, great respect for the flag, great respect for the anthem — we also want to show that we’re unified,” Hicks said. “And I think that was the best way to show that. We hold all those things dear and we are American citizens.”

This issue has been boiling ever since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — who remains unsigned — was the first to kneel during the national anthem last year in protest of police brutality and social injustice in the United States. Those beliefs are why Kaepernick began peacefully protesting, but the debate about athletes kneeling during the anthem can sometimes lose sight of that, said linebacker Danny Trevathan. 

“It gets lost in (translation),” Trevathan, who played a big role in what the Bears decided to do Sunday, said. “I know a lot of people (talked) about the flag, which I’m real big on it, but I really understand the way he attacked it. 

“He believed in something. He stood for that. And that’s what America’s built on, guys standing up for a great cause. And I feel like, you know, a lot of people overlook that but for somebody great like that to say something to that, he must’ve felt some way. But I feel like he did the right thing. And this team came together and we had his back, and we stood up for a great cause today.”

Added Trevathan about the Bears' actions on Sunday: “I feel like we were together. Together we can’t fall. I feel like I was doing the right thing. I feel like my two daughters, they would be proud of me. I took a stand for what I believed in. 

“And you know, I can’t stand around and let stuff like that happen. Because then you feel pity for yourself, you’ll be like, next time, I’m going to do something, next time — nah, man. Now is the time to stand up and be that right, that right person in the right situation. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. You have to stand up for what’s right.”

Whatever the Bears did on Sunday, the point was to do it as a unified team — a team of players of different ethnicities and backgrounds from different regions of the country. 

“We love each other, we’re empathetic for each others’ issues,” offensive lineman Kyle Long said. “This team does a great job of putting ourselves in others’ shoes. And it’s not something that’s hush-hush, we talk about it in the locker room. We have guys who are open about how they feel, and we have guys that are respectful of other people’s opinions. 

“I feel like today showed that we are a unit, a cohesive unit. That’s what we wanted to convey today. We didn’t want to show any disrespect towards the military, the flag. But there are obviously issues going on in our country, and I think we did the right thing today. Going forward, just trying to make this place a better world to live in.”