Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump spoke about the NFL at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, calling on owners to fire players who kneel or sit in protest of racial injustice during the playing of the national anthem and attacking league rules designed to prevent head injuries.
Said Trump to what CBS Sports describes as a “cheering crowd”: “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 also called upon fans attending a game to leave the stadium when a player kneels during the anthem. “The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium, I guarantee things will stop,” he said, according to Time Magazine
NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell was joined by a host of owners, players and others in denouncing the president’s comments. Goodell unequivocally criticized Trump’s words.
“Divisive comments like these [Trump’s] 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,” Goodell said.
Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch echoed Goodell’s characterization of Trump’s words as “divisive,” and emphasized that “the vast majority of [the Giants’ players, including, presumably, those who protest during the anthem] use their NFL platform to make a positive difference in our society.”
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who also used the word “divisive” in an implicit description of Trump’s words, stood beside Miami players who have sat for the anthem, and highlighted the “responsibility” of those affiliated with the NFL to “use this platform to promote understanding, respect and equality.”
“I know our players who kneeled for the anthem, and these are smart, young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone. They wanted to start a conversation and are making a difference in our community,” said Ross.
CEO of the 49ers, Jed York, called Trump’s comments “callous and offensive,” saying protesting players had “exercised their rights as United States citizens in order to spark conversation and action to address social injustice,” and pledging continued support for those who choose to protest.
Former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick galvanized the protest last season. He remains a free agent, a fact many have attributed to his political activism.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in response to Trump’s comments: “…Creating division or demonizing viewpoints that are different than our own accomplishes nothing positive and undermines our collective ability to achieve the ideals of our democracy. The NFL has historically been a strong catalyst for positive change, and I’m proud of the way our players, coaches and staff use that platform to give back to our community and strive to be good citizens making a positive impact on this and future generations.”
Packers CEO Mark Murphy and Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk joined the others in expressing support of their players’ freedom to protest and the ability of members of the league to affect positive change. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson declined to comment on the situation, CBSSports reports.
After calling for the “firing” of protesting players, Trump went on to say the rules the league has implemented to reduce head injuries are “hurting the game.” The league made the rule changes largely in response to mounting evidence correlating football to the development of degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Trump is also antagonizing members of the NBA, CBSSports notes. Saturday, he rescinded his White House invitation to the Golden State Warriors after Warriors star Stephen Curry said he was reluctant to go.
“I don’t want to go,” Curry told USA Today Friday. “That’s kind of the nucleus of my belief…[But] it’s not just me going to the White House. If it was, this would be a pretty short conversation.”
Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia would not go either, he told the New York Daily News Sunday. “I just don’t believe in anything that is Trump. So there wouldn’t be any reason for me to go at all,” he said.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons