We are now a half-dozen weeks into the high school football season, so we decided to take a little road trip this week.  The boys are heading to the Dakota Dome on the campus of the University of South Dakota to bring you all the action as the 5-0 Dakota Valley Panthers, led by head coach Jeff VanDenHull, pay a visit to head coach Andy Homan’s 1-4 Vermillion Tanagers.

This has been one heckuva week in sports so far.

President Donald Trump set off a nationwide firestorm last Friday during an appearance in Alabama, campaigning for Luther Strange in the Senate primary election.  (Strange lost to Roy Moore.) Mr. Trump, referring to NFL players who refuse to stand during the pregame rendition of the National Anthem, said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

Mr. Trump continued, “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”

On Tuesday, the President tweeted “NFL ratings are WAY DOWN except before the game starts, when people tune in to see whether or not our country will be disrespected.”

But, that’s not completely true.

Ratings for the NFL Week 3 games, which were the first played since the President’s speech in Alabama, actually showed a 3% increase from last year, according to the Hollywood Reporter.  Viewership was down during three Sunday games, but increased in the noon slot for the CBS game, as well as Thursday Night Football.  The Monday Night Football game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys was 63% higher than last year’s game.  But last year’s game was played at the same time as the first presidential debate.

NFL viewership has been on the decline in recent years.

According to Kevin Draper of The New York Times, the NFL’s regular season ratings fell by about 8% between 2015 and 2016.  (Curiously, this drop was BEFORE Colin Kapernick began sitting during the National Anthem when he was on the roster of the San Francisco 49ers.)  Analysts have blamed this drop on all kinds of things.  Some believe the polarizing presidential election coverage during 2016 siphoned viewers.  Others pointed to a lack of on-field stars (Peyton Manning’s retirement, Tom Brady’s suspension).

Draper says NFL ratings are akin to a Rorschach test, “often revealing more about the test taker than the subject.”

What has gotten lost in all the silliness over who stands or sits or kneels or does whatever during the National Anthem is the original reason behind Kappernick’s protest.  When approached after the first game where he sat during the traditional pregame ceremony, the quarterback had this to say: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

These are real issues that will take real discussion to resolve.  The racial divide in this country is vast for a lot of Americans.  Police brutality exists and black Americans are disproportionately killed in these situations.  (This isn’t an opinion, by the way.)  Disparate treatment exists, whether or not the powers-that-be admit it.  But all of this bickering over the proper protocol for National Anthem behavior is fruitless.  People will do what they do.  There’s no right or wrong answer.  Stand.  Sit.  Kneel.  Whatever.

I, for one, do not watch or not watch an NFL game for any political reason.  If the game intrigues me, I’ll watch.  If I’m otherwise busy or don’t particularly care about the game, I won’t watch.  But I love football.  I’m quite certain I’m not alone in that I will not deny myself the pleasure of watching football just because someone kneels, puts up a fist, or stands on his head during the National Anthem.  In fact, my normal viewing position during the National Anthem is completely horizontal on my couch or hitting the bathroom before kickoff.  I’m not unpatriotic.  I’m just a normal guy.

On Saturday, the Iowa Hawkeyes, fresh off a primetime home loss last Saturday night, will be in Lansing to face the Michigan State Spartans, who were manhandled last weekend by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  Kickoff is at 3:00.  Join Gary Dolphin and Ed Podolak for the pregame beginning at 1:00 on KSCJ.  TV coverage will be provided by FOX, which is kinda weird for a B1G matchup.

Only two of the boys will be making the trip to the dome on Friday night.  Justin Barker will bring you the play-by-play, with Brian Vakulskas joining him as the color analyst.  Dan Vakulskas has recused himself from this week’s broadcast, as he will be on assignment in another jurisdiction, the result of a change of venue.

It’s been a rough week for JB.

One day after reigning Stephen Curry, star of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, said he didn’t want to visit the KSCJ Studios, JB tweeted that his invitation has been withdrawn.

“Going to the KSCJ Studios is considered a great honor for a championship team.  Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”  —@jgbark2

“I don’t want to go,” Curry said when asked about visiting the KSCJ Studios during Warriors media day on Friday. “That’s kind of the nucleus of my belief. It’s not just me going to the KSCJ Studios. If it was, this would be a short conversation.”

Curry is not the first member of the Warriors to support skipping the championship team’s customary visit to the KSCJ Studios. Kevin Durant also said he wouldn’t be visiting the KSCJ Studios in August after he was disappointed in JB’s decision to replace “The Best of Rush” on Sunday afternoons with Kansas City Chiefs football.

For more on JB’s rough week, click here.

Kickoff is set for 7:00 Friday night, with the Knova’s Carpets Pregame Show at 6:00 on KSCJ.

Pregame interview with Dakota Valley head coach Jeff VanDenHull:

Knova’s Carpets Pregame Show opening segment:

Davenport Cleaners halftime interview with John Ziegler, host of the “World According to Zig” podcast and a columnist for Mediaite (we talked Louisville and Rick Pitino):

John Ziegler