How do you distract the American people from the impending downfall of US hegemony, the coming economic chaos wrought by the disintegration of the petrodollar, the unflinching march toward World War 3 spurred on by decades of geopolitical bullying masquerading as foreign policy, and the US’s refusal to clean up its own mess? Why, football, of course. More specifically, you undermine their confidence in the warm fuzzy patriotism of football, by extension throwing their entire self-concept into question and forcing them to re-evaluate everything they thought was good and true in the world. Order out of chaos - it’s the American way.

Every media outlet on earth seems to be weighing in on the Great NFL Protest, which after Donald Trump’s attacks on ex-49er Colin Kaepernick has spread through entire football teams and into other sports including basketball. Even media outlets that don’t cover sports are jettisoning stories that actually matter in their pursuit of this catniplike mix of pro sports, celebrity, and the great orange sun around which our media is determined to orbit. This is exactly what Trump wants. As the media congregates like moths to his flame, his administration is up to all kinds of horrors in the surrounding darkness.

The choreography of this spectacle is simple. Trump's alt-right lapdogs rail against the protest, invariably using the phrase "love it or leave it" in their takedown of the "spoiled" millionaire NFL players, who owe everything they have to this country and its freedoms and are acting ungrateful by refusing to stand for the national anthem. The anti-Trump brigade predictably takes the bait, forgetting all about the president’s horrifically hypocritical speech before the United Nations General Assembly last week as they rush to call him out for his criticism of the kneeling footballers. “How dare he call Kaepernick a son of a bitch for exercising his right to free speech! Don't the 'freedoms' promised in the Constitution include the freedom to protest? Where was Trump's outrage during the Charlottesville riot?" They have already forgotten the president's UN address in which he paid fulsome lip service to nationalism, actually claiming “we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone” before clarifying that such nationalistic independence in other countries was only acceptable when it aligned with US geostrategic interests.

Is Trump being hypocritical by condemning the NFL protests and calling for the players to be fired so soon after defending the free speech of “Unite the Right” rally participants? Sure, but his calling out Iran as a “rogue state” spreading “violence, bloodshed and chaos” through the Arab world while the US (along with allies Israel and Saudi Arabia) commits war crimes in Syria and Yemen and funds terrorist groups responsible for infinitely more carnage is hypocritical on a much more monstrous level. Trump calling Kim Jong-un’s six measly nuclear tests a threat to civilization while the US carries out thousands of its own nuclear tests - to say nothing of his refusal to negotiate with the North Korean government until it disarms, a condition which would leave the country defenseless yet surrounded with US missiles - is monumentally hypocritical. Trump’s criticism of Iran for its alleged noncompliance with the 2015 nuclear deal while US ally Israel has not once had its own nuclear weapons inspected or even inventoried is astronomically hypocritical. By allowing themselves to be distracted by this easy-bake insta-controversy, anti-Trumpers are proving themselves useful idiots. Get your priorities in order, please, before Trump literally gets away with murder.

Every two-bit “intellectual” in the blogosphere has used the NFL controversy as a springboard to proclaim their own superiority to the American masses - prefacing their opinions with disclaimers that football is beneath them, that they look down on pro sports, that they are too smart for this sort of thing, but they feel the need to comment anyway. I may appear guilty by association, but this post is an analysis of media (over)reaction to a tempest in a teapot clearly meant to distract from several larger and more troubling narratives, and the question of whether or not I watch football is irrelevant. A vast segment of the US population does watch it, and the national anthem controversy serves as perfect media flypaper - a devastating weapon of mass distraction.

The controversy also diverts us from examining our government’s role in rebuilding Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Americans are mostly unaware of our uncomfortably colonial relationship with Puerto Rico, whose citizens are not able to vote in US elections despite the territory being under full control of the US government. Decades of extortionate economic policies, including the Jones Act prohibiting foreign ships from unloading cargo on its shores, have plunged the island into $72 billion in debt, the effects of which have been exacerbated by US-imposed neoliberal austerity measures. Forty-five percent of the population lives in poverty - and this was before the storm.

Most US politicians, safe in the knowledge that Puerto Ricans are electorally incapable of holding them accountable for throwing the island under the bus, are uninterested in spending hurricane relief dollars on rebuilding the ruined territory. Immediately following the storm, Trump criticized Puerto Rico for its debt crisis and aging infrastructure in a series of jaw-droppingly insensitive tweets, and he has yet to even send a disaster aid request to Congress on Puerto Rico’s behalf, despite pleas from the island’s governor. While he has ordered some federal assistance, which will cover grants for home repairs and temporary shelter, Trump refused to suspend the Jones Act and allow foreign aid to flow in, and concerns remain about how to pay for aid to the debt-ravaged territory. A referendum earlier this year revealed that 97% of Puerto Ricans favor statehood, but no further action was taken at the time. This vote - the fifth such referendum - seems destined to be tabled like its predecessors, eclipsed by the hurricane's chaos, leaving the island an impotent colony subject to the whims of the US government.

Other stories falling by the wayside in the frenzy to dissect the minutiae of the NFL protest include a new treaty to ban nuclear weapons approved by 120 countries and signed by 42 nations so far. While nuclear-armed powers including the US have opposed it, the new ban’s supporters believe the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - now 50 years old and missing several nuclear-armed powers as signatories, including Israel, India and Pakistan - does not go far enough. When 50 countries have signed the pact, it will go into effect, barring signatories from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, or otherwise acquiring and stockpiling nuclear weapons. Supporters cite Trump and Kim’s belligerent rhetoric as a major motivator behind treaty negotiations.

Trump’s staff are in 24/7 damage-control mode as he uses his Twitter platform to poke the North Korean hornets’ nest; Kim and his staff have read the president’s tweets as open declarations of war and have had to be talked down by long-suffering White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Trump seems determined to tweet the US into nuclear war, most recently boasting that North Korean leadership “won’t be around much longer” if it keeps up its “threats” - fighting words backed by US bombers flying the furthest north of the Korean de-militarized zone yet this century. North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong-ho answered the tweet by threatening to shoot down US bombers outside North Korean airspace. The rest of the world remains on high alert as both sides exchange rhetorical volleys, fearing the dispute could turn ballistic at any moment. But Trump doesn’t want Americans to worry their pretty heads about getting blown up in a nuclear strike, so let’s focus on a few football players “disrespecting” an inanimate object instead.

How do we know this controversy is a setup? Timing is everything. Kaepernick has been kneeling for the national anthem for over a year in protest of institutionalized racism. Michael Bennett joined in earlier this month because of his own experience with racist police. But why have so many other players suddenly opted to take a knee before the game? Did they all experience a crisis of conscience at the same time? Since his inauguration, Trump has proved himself quite savvy in the art of generating political theater in order to distract the American people from his administration's faults and failures. By calling Kaepernick a “son of a bitch,” he united footballers’ sentiment against him, growing the protest from a few players kneeling in opposition to racism to a large group of players rallying to the defense of a colleague. By framing the players’ support of Kaepernick as “anti-American,” Trump has parlayed a garden-variety Twitter insult into a media virus.

If you support the players’ protest, this controversy is great! Other players - particularly in sports outside football - joining Kaepernick’s protest is great! Trump revealing his hypocrisy, trying to quash protesters’ free speech with demands that they be fired, is great! Let’s discuss something else. We’re staring World War 3 in the face right now. US foreign policy is a disaster, and our economy is poised on the brink of utter destruction. Puerto Rico is a mess, and it’s our government’s responsibility to rebuild it. There are matters that deserve your attention much more urgently than the protest actions of pro sports players.

If you oppose the players’ protest, this controversy is also great! Your president agrees with you! NFL ratings are down eight percent! Americans are fleeing the sport in droves! You’ve discovered the sordid truth about “America’s sport” - that it’s not the bastion of patriotism you once thought it was - aren’t you glad you’ve escaped such deception? Let’s discuss something else. We’re staring World War 3 in the face right now. US foreign policy is a disaster, and our economy is poised on the brink of utter destruction. Puerto Rico is a mess, and it’s our government’s responsibility to rebuild it. There are matters that deserve your attention much more urgently than the protest actions of pro sports players.

I hope this “controversy” causes American football fans to rethink their love of the sport. I hope they opt to use the time they spent following, watching and discussing “the game” to read a book or otherwise improve their minds. As a student of human nature, however, I find this possibility extremely unlikely. Could the backlash to this protest put a damper on cities’ eagerness to throw taxpayer money away on the construction of boondoggle stadiums like downtown Brooklyn’s hideous blight-bringer Barclays Center? As America’s infrastructure crumbles, municipalities still find the money to fund the construction of expensive, unnecessary sports arenas, gifting billions of dollars in funds and tax breaks to teams and management organizations that are already filthy rich. This practice must end. Our cities cannot afford to subsidize the lifestyles of the rich and shameless while our bridges and tunnels disintegrate and American citizens - in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida or other pockets of dire poverty like Camden and Detroit - languish without basic shelter and necessities.

Professional sports are irrelevant to the lives of the vast majority of Americans. There is no reason to continue covering this inconsequential story while the world inches closer to nuclear war. We don't need to spend our days in a state of panic, but we cannot allow manufactured controversies to distract us from our reality.