WASHINGTON (September 25, 2017) — President Donald feud with the NFL shows no signs of abating, with the president tweeting early Monday morning: "The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!"
NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart fired back Monday in a conference call defending players' rights to peacefully protest what they view as racial inequality and police brutality.
Trump's spat with athletes comes as the president prepares to sell a tax overhaul plan and revive health care legislation — his party's top legislative priorities. However, the president spent the weekend addressing the NFL players who kneel during the national anthem. Trump also rescinded a White House invitation for basketball player Stephen Curry, a star player on the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
The president's words sparked a massive show of defiance this weekend, with more than 200 NFL players protesting by choosing not to stand for the national anthem and many coaches locking arms with the players.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday night in New Jersey, Trump said players and coaches locking arms was a display of "solidarity" that he approved of. But he pushed back against the suggestion that his critique could inflame racial tensions, arguing: "I never said anything about race."
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a longtime supporter of Trump, said Sunday he was "deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the president." He added that there is "nothing more divisive than politics" and said he supported players' "right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful."
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle and former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva stands outside the tunnel alone during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Sept, 24, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
(Editor's note: Sales of Villanueva's jersey are "soaring," according to Fox News. His #78 jersey is the top seller on the NFL's web store, ahead of top players like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Derek Carr.)
Trump shrugged off the comments, saying: "he's a good friend of mine and I want him to do what he wants to do."
As NFL criticism rolled in, Trump supporters argued the president was not targeting African-Americans, but simply expressing patriotism.
"It's a perfect example of where the president gets it right," said Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax and a longtime Trump friend, who said team officials and the news media were not in line with much of the country. "It's a win for him at the end of the day."
Some allied groups were quick to take action. The pro-Trump political non-profit America First Policies released a Facebook ad with the tagline "Turn off the NFL."
But critics of the president said Trump's comments have a lot to do with race. Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick initiated the protests last year to bring attention to police brutality against minorities.
Top administration officials backed the president on Sunday talk shows, saying he just wanted players to show patriotism and respect. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on ABC's "This Week" that players have "the right to have the First Amendment off the field."
Vets' groups slam NFL anthem protests
The leaders of the nation’s two biggest veterans’ groups are criticizing NFL player protests during the national anthem.
American Legion National Commander Denise Rohan chided what she called the politicization of sports events. She says the playing of the national anthem should be a time of unity, and that professional athletes who fail to show respect are “misguided and ungrateful.”
Keith Harman, the national commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars, says the player protests don’t “wash with millions of military veterans who have and continue to wear real uniforms on real battlefields around the globe.”
Their statements come after President Donald Trump attacked NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.
The American Legion and VFW together represent nearly four million military veterans.
Tags Politics Tagged Under: Tags:NFL...,NFL anthem protests,Colin Kaepernick
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