- Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Grilled on Monday over President Donald Trump’s assertion that NFL players should be fired for protesting during the national anthem, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, suggested that athletes should protest “officers on the field that are protecting them, instead of the American flag.”
Many of the questions Sanders received during the press briefing focused on Trump’s remarks on Friday at a rally in Alabama that NFL team owners should get a “son of a b—-” who chose to kneel during the national anthem “off the field.” Trump doubled down on the remarks in tweets and comments over the weekend and into Monday.
Dozens of NFL players demonstrated during the league’s slate of games on Sunday, and Trump’s remarks became the central focus of the sports world.
A reporter noted that while Trump said the protests had nothing to do with race, Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who last year became the first NFL player to kneel during the anthem, “took to his knees in these games, many of these games, specifically because he said black people in this country were not being treated fairly by police.”
“How is that not an issue of race?” the reporter asked.
Sanders responded, “I think the focus has long since changed and certainly the message in a lot of what has been communicated over these last several weeks through this process, through these protests by these players.” She did not further clarify how the message had changed.
Another reporter followed up by tying Trump’s remarks about the NFL players to his response to the white-supremacist rally last month in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump has said there were some “very fine” people there who were simply trying to protest the removal of Confederate monuments.
“But when white supremacists say their protest is about heritage and not hate, the president does take them at their word,” the reporter said. “So why is there this disparity about who gets to decide what protest is about?”
Sanders replied, “I think if this is the debate is really for them about police brutality, they should probably protest the officers on the field that are protecting them, instead of the American flag.”
She later said she was not advocating players protest the on-field officers. Sanders did not describe what such a protest would entail.
Some NFL players, starting with Kaepernick, have taken a knee during the singing of the national anthem to highlight what they believe is the mistreatment of black Americans, particularly by police.
Watch Sanders’ comment:
Sarah: If the protest is about police brutality "they should protest the officers on the field that are protecting them instead of the flag" pic.twitter.com/WySQNK5Epm
— David Mack (@davidmackau) September 25, 2017