Members of the New England Patriots kneel during the national...

Members of the New England Patriots kneel during the national anthem before a game on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in Foxboro, Mass. Credit: Getty Images / Jim Rogash

Land of the free

President Donald Trump’s call for a fan boycott sent the NFL to its knees. Just not in the way he wanted.

Players, coaches and owners united in spectacles of defiance against Trump’s demonizing of those who have made symbolic protests against racial injustice during the national anthem. Trump urged management to say: “Get that [expletive] off the field right now. Out! He’s fired.”

At least 150 players sat, knelt or raised their fists in defiance on Sunday, compared with just six the week before. Many others chose a gesture of unity — standing arm in arm — to support the right to free speech. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Trump’s “divisive” comments showed “lack of respect” for the league and players.

In an afternoon tweet, Trump chose to ignore that the linking of arms was a silent response to him: “Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable.”

But he wouldn’t back off. He retweeted a call for boycott and said fans should shun “players that do not stand proud for their National Anthem or their Country.” See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.

Out of bounds

NFL figures whom Trump has counted on as supporters and donors lined up against him on this one.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft — who gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee — said he was “deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments” and stood up for his players’ “right to peacefully affect social change.”

Former Jets and Bills coach Rex Ryan, who introduced Trump at a Buffalo rally last year, said he was ticked off. “It’s appalling to me. ... I never signed up for that,” Ryan said.

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan — another $1 million donor — locked arms with his players on the field, as did Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.

Trump: It’s not about race

Trump told reporters, “This has nothing to do with race. I’ve never said anything about race. ... This has to do with respect for our country, and respect for our flag.”

But a divide between Trump and many African-Americans, exacerbated by his response to last month’s white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, has been playing out in the sports world.

On Saturday, learning of critical comments by Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, Trump disinvited him from a traditional White House visit for the NBA champions. “U bum,” LeBron James tweeted at Trump. “... Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

On Sept. 13, Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said ESPN anchor Jemele Hill should be fired for tweeting that Trump was a “white supremacist.”

Monday morning quarterback

As is his habit, Trump reacted to all the morning media about him with a string of defensive statements on Twitter. This included:

"Many people booed the players who kneeled yesterday (which was a small percentage of total). These are fans who demand respect for our Flag!"

"So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won't put up with disrespecting our Country or our Flag - they said it loud and clear!"

The take-away: Crazy talk?

The taunting insults traded back and forth by Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un — “Dotard” vs. “Rocket Man” — might be funny if only the real-life issue at hand wasn’t the potential for nuclear war, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

But has Trump made the situation worse? That’s not so clear. Those who think not contend he has reinforced the seriousness of the U.S. determination to deter aggression from Pyongyang.

Trump’s approach stirs anxiety

By 62% to 37%, Americans do not trust Trump to act responsibly in handling the North Korea, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Far more — 72% — trust U.S. military leaders to manage the situation. Only 23% would favor a pre-emptive attack on North Korea, while 67% say any U.S. military strike should be retaliatory only.

Guess who’s using private email

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has sometimes corresponded with other officials about White House business using a private email account instead of his official one, and he’s not the only administration official to do so, Politico reported.

There is no indication that Kushner shared sensitive or classified material on his personal account, which uses a private family domain set up late last year, but his representatives declined to provide details about the server or security measures on it.

Trump and other Republicans repeatedly pounded Hillary Clinton for using a private email system while secretary of state.

Fading health and taxes

Trump isn’t waving a white flag yet on getting an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill through the Senate, but he said Sunday it’s not his biggest legislative priority.

“My primary focus, I must tell you, it has been from the beginning, as you might imagine, is taxes,” he told reporters as he was leaving New Jersey for the White House.

Prospects for the Republicans’ Graham-Cassidy health care bill looked bleaker, as Sen. Susan Collins of Maine all but closed the door on supporting it and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said that “right now” he doesn’t back it.

What else is happening

  • Reminder: Colin Kaepernick, the now-unemployed quarterback who started the anthem protests last year, said shortly after the 2016 election that he did not vote because “it didn’t really matter” who won.
  • With his old travel ban expiring, Trump announced a new one. It places restrictions on entry from eight countries.
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who had defended spending more than $400,000 for taxpayer-funded private jet charters, now says he will pause the practice while his department’s inspector general reviews it.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended his use of a costly government jet for a short hop from New York to Washington because of his need for “secure communications.” His department’s inspector general “is reviewing my travel,” Mnuchin said.
  • Clinton in a tweet and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in a news conference said Trump isn’t doing enough to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. “Instead of arguing with football players ... why don’t we put the politics aside and focus on helping Americans in desperate need?” Cuomo said.
  • Several NASCAR owners said they would fire any member of their teams who staged a protest during the national anthem.