On Friday night, President Donald Trump attacked the NFL, using explicit language to make a thinly-veiled reference toward former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose peaceful protest by way of kneeling during the national anthem continues to stir conversation worldwide over a year after it began.
Trump, who spoke at a political rally in Alabama, said that NFL owners should fire players who protest the anthem (Kaepernick and players who have followed his lead are not actually protesting the anthem itself, but racial injustice in America).
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you'd say, 'Get that son of a b---- off the field right now. Out! He's fired,” said Trump.
Trump also bemoaned the increased player safety measures the league has taken, remarking that it’s “not the same game.”
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Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, issued a response Saturday morning.
On social media, a response to Donald Trump’s remarks in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and other players who have protested in similar ways called “#TakeAKnee” quickly spread, prompting many to wonder if Sunday’s NFL games would show an increase in protests.
“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture,” he said. “There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”
A spokesperson for the Carolina Panthers said team owner Jerry Richardson would not be issuing a statement in response to Trump’s comments.
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith condemned Trump’s remarks on Saturday morning.
“Whether or not Roger and the owners will speak for themselves about their views on player rights and their commitment to player safety remains to be seen,” he said. “This union, however, will never back down when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of our players as citizens, as well as their safety as men who compete in a game that exposes them to great risks.”
Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson tweeted a GIF on Saturday morning of a young child throwing a temper tantrum on a golf course, with a picture of Trump’s face where the child’s face would be. Several players around the league, including Seattle’s Richard Sherman and Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy were quick to condemn Trump’s remarks.
On Saturday afternoon, the president tweeted anew, saying in a pair of tweets, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect.... ...our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
Saturday night, Trump tweeted again, this time directed at the NFL commissioner, “Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.Tell them to stand!”
On social media, a response to Trump’s remarks in solidarity with Kaepernick and other players who have protested in similar ways called “#TakeAKnee” quickly spread, prompting many to wonder if Sunday’s games would show an increase in protests.
Panthers players largely have not participated in protests during the anthem.
Last season, former safety Marcus Ball raised his fist while the anthem played, with his index finger pointed to the air, less than a week after the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte police officer. Ball later explained that the gesture was intended to communicate love and unity.
Earlier this month, quarterback Cam Newton remarked that it was “unfair” that Kaepernick is not on an NFL roster and that he had the talent to be on one, after reports surfaced through the spring and summer that Kaepernick was being “blackballed” by the league.
One NFL agent, who represents a couple of Panthers players, sent a text to all of his clients saying he supported their decision if they chose to kneel before the anthem on Sunday. The agent, who asked to remain anonymous, made a reference to to the explicit language used by Trump in his text.
Trump’s comments came the day before he took on another sport. On Saturday morning, he tweeted that he was withdrawing his offer to visit the White House after Golden State star point guard and Charlotte native Steph Curry said he was hesitant to visit the president.