Oliver Gettell
September 24, 2017 AT 11:33 AM EDT

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a TV interview Sunday that NFL players protesting during the national anthem should “do free speech on their own time.”

Speaking to Martha Raddatz on This Week, Mnuchin defended President Trump’s recent railing against players who refuse to stand during the anthem and said the league should force them to do so.

“The NFL has all types of rules,” Mnuchin said. “You can’t have stickers on your helmet, you have to have your jerseys tucked in. I think what the president is saying is that the owners should have a rule that players should have to stand in respect for the national anthem.”

He continued, “This isn’t about Democrats, it’s not about Republicans, it’s not about race, it’s not about free speech. They can do free speech on their own time. That this is about respect for the military and the first responders and the country.”

The NFL protests, however, are very much about race and free speech. Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, first drew national attention last year when he declined to to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said. Several other players and fellow athletes have followed suit with similar protests.

Trump blasted those players during a stump speech in Alabama on Friday, saying, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a b— off the field right now. Out, you’re fired.’”

He followed up with a string of tweets Saturday in which he said players who want “the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues” should “not be allowed to disrespect…our Great American Flag (or Country).”

Trump’s comments, and another he made critical of NBA star Stephen Curry, have been widely denounced by fellow athletes and celebrities, including LeBron James, Sean “Diddy” Combs, and J.K. Rowling.

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