NFL player protests increase after Trump’s attacks
President Donald Trump’s swipes at the NFL and at protests by players sparked a wave of demonstrations before football games on Sunday as athletes and coaches across the league kneeled, linked arms or declined to take the field during the national anthem.
Trump began Sunday with yet another criticism of the league, tweeting that “if NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”
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The president then added: “NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.”
The president’s tweets, the latest in a series of statements related to the world of sports, prompted quick pushback from athletes and owners alike, even from supporters such as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. “I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday,” he said in a statement Sunday.
In Sunday’s first NFL game, which was played at Wembley Stadium in London, multiple players on both the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars kneeled during the anthem. (The players stood as “God Save the Queen” was played.) Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, a backer of Trump during the 2016 campaign, locked arms with his players.
On Sunday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Steelers opted to remain in the locker room during the anthem, with one exception: Alejandro Villanueva, a West Point graduate and veteran of combat in Afghanistan. He stood near the end of the tunnel, however, leaving the Steelers sideline virtually empty in the moments before their game in Chicago. Coach Mike Tomlin told CBS it was a team decision to avoid having his players side against one another.
In Detroit, artist Rico Lavelle went down to one knee while singing the anthem.
Trump was referring to players such as former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has not been signed to a team this year after he drew attention for his political activism, as well as such outspoken players as Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles and Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks.
Some of these players have declined over the past year to stand for the National Anthem as a form of protest against racism in American society, including police tactics seen as targeting African Americans. Others have made different gestures, such as raising their fists.
After remarks on the subject Friday during a campaign rally for Alabama Sen. Luther Strange, the president has spent the weekend seemingly at war with professional sports.
Trump attacked the commissioner of the NFL (“Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.Tell them to stand!”) and the defending NBA champions Golden State Warriors (“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!”)
“He thinks this is about respect for the military,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday about Trump on CNN’s “State of the Union,” “and so many people who put their lives at risk and what the country stands for.”
But former Sen. Rick Santorum, who has been working to get the latest Obamacare repeal bill passed, said Trump’s energies could be better spent on trying to get that bill through the Senate. “He is taking his eye off the ball,” the Pennsylvania Republican said on “State of the Union.”