President Donald Trump claimed Sunday that his two-day attack on NFL players who choose to protest during the national anthem has “nothing to do with race” and urged the NFL to change its policy with regard to the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
“This has nothing to do with race. I’ve never said anything about race,” Trump said to reporters in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Sunday afternoon. “This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.”
Later, via Twitter, Trump called for both “sports fans” and the NFL to stand against players who protest.
“Sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their National Anthem or their Country. NFL should change policy!”
Trump’s battle with the NFL began on Friday night during a rally in Alabama for Senator Luther Strange.
“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!'” Trump said, referencing players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and injustice (a movement started last year by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick). “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. They don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
Trump’s comments were condemned league-wide — including by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a friend of Trump, who called the president’s remarks “deeply” disappointing.
“I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal,” Kraft said in a statement. “Our players are intelligent, thoughtful, and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is impactful.”
Speaking Sunday, Trump said Kraft “has to take his ideas and go with what he wants.” The president added, “I think it’s very disrespectful to our country [to protest during the national anthem]. I think it’s very, very disrespectful to our flag. I like Bob very much, we’re friends. He gave me a Super Bowl ring a month ago, right? So he’s a good friend of mine, and I want him to do what he wants to do, but we have a great country, we have great people representing our country, especially our soldiers, our first responders, and they should be treated with respect, and when you get on your knee and you don’t respect the American flag or the anthem, that’s not being treated with respect.”
More than 100 players kneeled or sat during national anthem performances around the league on Sunday in protest of police brutality and injustice. Dozens of others locked arms in defiance of Trump — though the president seemed to believe that show of disapproval was actually done in support of his message.
“Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Speaking to reporters in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump admitted he didn’t watch a lot of the games on Sunday.
“I watched a little bit and I will say that there was tremendous solidarity for our flag and our country,” Trump said.
This post has been updated throughout.