Haslam backs both sides in sports controversies (well, sorta)

Gov. Bill Haslam offers decidedly middle-of-the-road comments on the controversy over NFL football player national anthem protests in a lengthy interview with The Tennessean on sports and politics – a contrast to his brother, James A. “Jimmy” Haslam III.

Most of the NFL’s owners publicly supported their players, including Haslam’s brother, Jimmy. He owns the Cleveland Browns with his wife, Dee, and their statement was one of the strongest in support of the rights of the players and in admonishing Trump.

“We must not let misguided, uninformed and divisive comments from the President or anyone else deter us from our efforts to unify,” the statement said in part.

“I have not had that discussion with them,” Haslam said of Jimmy and Dee and the biggest story in sports right now. “But I think you had a lot of owners who felt like, ‘We have to stand up for our players, our players are expressing their opinions, our players have been called out and even called names, and when our players are called names, we have to show that we’re a unified team here.’”

…“I’m in the middle of the same conversations everybody else is, and I tend just to be a listener in a lot of those conversations. And I think the consensus I hear around me is, players have a right to express their opinions. And fans have a right to decide whether or not they’re going to continue to go to games. It’s part of living in a free society and also an economy that’s based on capitalism, where consumers get to choose. Both of those are true.”

The governor also avoided a position on whether he will be rooting for the Tennessee Titans or the Cleveland Browns when the two teams meet this weekend. “The last couple times they’ve played, I’ve stayed home and kept the grandchildren. That seems like the safest thing to do.”

And he diplomatically says, more or less, that he doesn’t really have a favorite college sports team in the state.

“I mean, obviously I grew up a Tennessee fan, and that will obviously always be a part of me. But as governor, we have the University of Memphis, we have ETSU, MTSU, Austin Peay on a two-game winning streak now, playing exciting football. And obviously college basketball, Memphis has an incredible college basketball tradition. So for me, it’s not like you’re going to choose one over the other. It’s part of what makes Tennessee a fun state. Go to a Memphis Tigers basketball game or go to a home game in Neyland, or ETSU resurrecting their football program, that’s all fun.”

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