U.S. President Donald Trump voiced his support Tuesday for fans booing National Football League players who have been kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before games to protest racism in the country.
At a Monday night game, Dallas Cowboy players, along with team owner Jerry Jones, knelt as a team on the field before a game with the Arizona Cardinals, then stood for the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner.”
In a Twitter comment, Trump said, “The booing at the NFL football game last night, when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees, was loudest I have ever heard. Great anger.”
In the fifth straight day he’s commented on the protests, Trump noted that “ratings for NFL football are way down except before game starts, when people tune in to see whether or not our country will be disrespected!”
But he said that with Dallas players standing for the national anthem, “Big progress being made-we all love our country!”
Trump said the NFL could end the protests by banning them.
“The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can’t kneel during our National Anthem!” he said.
More than 200 NFL players, most of them black, and several team owners, knelt, sat and locked arms at weekend games in protest of Trump’s call for owners to fire the players for refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem, a tradition before the start of many amateur and virtually all professional athletic events in the U.S.
The NFL players say they are protesting what they see as disparate treatment of minorities in the U.S. compared to whites and police brutality against blacks.
How it started
The protests started last year when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the anthem to draw attention to disparities in the treatment of racial minorities in the United States, including incidents of police brutality directed at African-Americans.
After Trump’s comments, hundreds of players responded Sunday and Monday by sitting, kneeling or locking arms during the anthems at their games.
Trump contended Monday in Twitter comments that the “issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race” but rather respect for the U.S. flag.
Numerous NFL team owners, at least two of whom had contributed $1 million apiece to Trump’s inaugural celebration in January, issued statements in support of the players’ protest, not Trump’s call to fire them, and some joined in linking arms with their players.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump believes it is important to “support national pride in our country…. I know it’s a priority for the president to always defend our flag, always defend the national anthem and certainly to support the men and women in uniform.”
One of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, told a radio interviewer Monday, “I certainly disagree with what (Trump) said (about NFL players). I thought it was just divisive… Like I said, I just want to support my teammates. I am never one to say, ‘Oh, that is wrong. That is right.’ I do believe in what I believe in. I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust. Those are the values that my parents instilled in me.”
A smaller number of other NFL players had also taken up the kneeling protest before Sunday, as did players from the Women’s National Basketball Association, a player for the U.S. women’s national soccer team, and on Saturday a Major League Baseball player. But Sunday marked a massive expansion following fresh criticism from Trump.
“There is inequality out there,” said Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. “There isn’t liberty and justice for all, and I think guys for a while, at least a year now, have been protesting that by taking a knee, sitting down, putting up the fist … but their voices were watered down.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Trump’s comments were divisive and disrespectful to athletes who were trying to make a heartfelt statement.
Mixed reaction at stadiums
At NFL stadiums Sunday, some fans booed or yelled at players to stand during the anthem, while others greeted the protests with applause. Social media showed a similar mix of reactions.
The demonstrations took on different forms, representing the various stances held throughout the league. Buffalo Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander was among those who took a knee during the anthem Sunday, but said he would return to standing for the next game.
“Me taking a knee doesn’t change the fact that I support our military, I’m a patriot and I love my country,” Alexander said. “But I also recognize there are some social injustices in this country and today I wanted to take a knee in support of my brothers who have been doing it.”
The Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans did not come onto the field during the playing of the national ceremony. The Pittsburgh Steelers remained just off the field during the anthem except for one player, Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva, who stood outside with a hand over his heart.
Villanueva did not speak to reporters after the game, but he clarified Monday that it was not his intention to stand apart from his team. He said the plan was to be with the Steelers captains at the front of the team but still inside the tunnel. Before the anthem began, he walked out far enough to see the flag, only to have the song start while he was still out there. He said he felt it would look bad if he turned away and walked into the tunnel at that point, so he remained in place.
“It’s a very embarrassing part on my end,” Villanueva said. “When everyone sees images of me standing by myself, everybody thinks the team and the Steelers are not behind me and that is absolutely wrong. It’s quite the opposite.”
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, one of the $1 million Trump inauguration donors, said he was “deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments” Trump made.
Trump’s tirades against the NFL players came as he disinvited National Basketball Association star Stephen Curry to visit the White House to celebrate along with the NBA champion Golden State Warriors. Curry had said he was unlikely to attend because of Trump’s comments on the treatment of minorities.
After Trump denounced Curry, another NBA superstar, LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, spoke out in support of Curry. James called Trump “a bum” online, and said: “Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”