President Donald Trump’s attacks on the NFL extended into Sunday — and drew a mass social response from celebrities and viewers as the NFL’s schedule for Week 3 kicked off.
“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!” Trump wrote on Twitter early Sunday. “…NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.”
Trump’s attacks on the NFL and its players came two days after the president unleashed a bizarre rant against the NFL during a campaign rally for Alabama 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. “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 about the NFL player protests were quickly condemned on Friday and Saturday — including by the NFL Players Association, the NFL itself, and numerous team owners. By Saturday night, even Stevie Wonder took a knee on stage at the Global Citizens Festival in New York.
As the first NFL game started on Sunday, a matchup between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens in London, the hashtags #TakeTheKnee and #TakeAKnee became prominent on social media. Both teams locked arms during the national anthem on Sunday — and many players kneeled as a sign of protest.
Meanwhile, stars such as Uzo Abuda, John Leguizamo, Rosie Perez, and more, posted in support of the movement on social media.
Protests were expected around the NFL in various forms. Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said his team would not be on the field during the national anthem as a sign of protest.
Even prominent Trump supports from the NFL were outraged at the president’s remarks. Former coach Rex Ryan, who introduced Trump during a rally in Buffalo last year, blasted the president on ESPN’s NFL Countdown broadcast.
“Everyone’s always been united. Yeah, the views are different but lemme tell you: I’m pissed off,” Ryan, who used to coach the Buffalo Bills said. “I’ll be honest with you. Because I supported Donald Trump. When he asked me to introduce him at a rally in Buffalo, I did that. But I’m reading these comments and it’s appalling to me and I’m sure it’s appalling to almost any citizen in our country. It should be.”