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President Donald Trump on Sunday responded to the growing backlash he’s facing from prominent members of the NFL and the football community at large over his suggestion that players who kneel during the national anthem should be fired.
The practice first gained attention last year when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the anthem to protest what he said was the oppression of minorities and people of color in the US.
The move sparked a heated debate, with Kaepernick’s supporters saying he had the right to protest perceived mistreatment by the government, and opponents saying it was disrespectful to American values.
Trump has vocally criticized the practice. “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,” Trump tweeted on Saturday. “If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
When asked on Sunday whether he felt like his comments were inflaming racial tensions, Trump replied, “This has noting to do with race. I never said anything about race. This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.”
He also responded to Robert Kraft’s statement, in which the Patriots owner said he was “deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the president on Friday.”
“I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities,” Kraft added. “Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger.”
Kraft also said he supported his players’ right to protest.
“There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics,” Kraft said. “I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful, and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”
Asked to respond to Kraft’s comments, Trump said, “Look, that’s okay. he has to take his ideas and go with what he wants.”
“I think it’s very disrespectful to our country,” Trump added. “I think it’s very, very disrespectful to our flag.”
“I like Bob very much, we’re friends – he gave me a Super Bowl ring a month ago, right? – so he’s a good friend of mine, and I want him to do what he wants to do” Trump said, and reiterated his belief that kneeling during the national anthem was a sign of disrespect towards the country and those who represent it.
When asked whether he still believes that players who kneel during the anthem should be fired, Trump said, “I certainly think the owners should do something about it.”
He added that there was “great solidarity” during Sunday’s games, though the comment appears to contrast with several teams’ and players’ decision Sunday to protest Trump’s comments before their respective games.