Nick Romano
September 28, 2017 AT 10:06 AM EDT

Donald Trump is still attacking NFL players who protest police brutality and racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem, claiming NFL owners are “afraid” of the players in a new interview with Fox News.

“I have so many friends that are owners and they’re in a box,” he said on Thursday’s Fox & Friends. “I mean, I’ve spoken to a couple of them and they say, ‘We are in a situation where we have to do something.’ I think they’re afraid of their players and I think it’s disgraceful, and they’ve gotta be tough and they’ve gotta be smart because you look at the ratings, the ratings are going way down. The stadiums, I’ve seen a couple of stadiums over the last few weeks that are losing, there are a lot of empty seats, I couldn’t even believe it. But when it comes to the respect of our nation, when it comes to the respect of our anthem and our flag, they have no choice. You have to have people stand with respect.”

Trump also claimed that players standing for the national anthem is “a rule that’s been in existence for a long time.” Neither the “2017 Official National Football League Record and Fact Book” nor the “2017 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League” mention the national anthem, but an NFL spokesperson said the games operations manual states “all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem” and that players “should stand at attention.”

The manual also states, “Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.” Considering the wording of “should” and “may,” the spokesperson noted the NFL is not considering pushing fines on players or teams who took a knee or remained in the locker rooms.

Watch Trump’s full remarks below.

The players who either took a knee, linked arms, or refused to come out of their locker rooms during the NFL games this past weekend weren’t necessarily protesting the national anthem or the countryThe #TakeAKnee protests were out of solidarity for players like Colin Kaepernick (and also a response to Trump’s comments on the NFL).

When Kaepernick made headlines for taking a knee during the anthem in August last year, he was protesting racial injustice in America. Trump then called players “son of a bitch” through a veiled attack during a stump speech last Friday and continued his remarks on social media in the days that followed — not only attacking the NFL, but waging a side war against basketball player Stephen Curry for not wanting to visit the White House.

Trump was criticized on social media for his latest remarks, which some online called a “dog whistle” to racists.

To Trump’s claim that the Sunday Night Football ratings were “way down,” they were down by roughly 10 percent when compared to last year’s matchup. In looking at the overall ratings, the NFL actually saw a ratings boost in week 3.

“Seventy percent of the players in the NFL, roughly, are African-American,” sportscaster Bob Costas explained on CNN. “Virtually every player who knelt in the initial stages of this was black. And the initial impetus for it came from Colin Kaepernick, and it was about police brutality and mistreatment of African-Americans. You can’t separate race from those things.”

Costas also asserted on Real Time With Bill Maher, “Even people who disagree with [Kaepernick] recognize that you’d be crazy to deny the right of expression that the people they rightly revere — for having put their lives on the line to protect it and ensure it — why would you deprive someone of that right, even if you disagree with it?”

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