President Trump continued his attack early Sunday morning for the third day in a row on NFL players protesting during the national anthem.
Trump tweeted at 5:44 a.m. suggesting fans should boycott the league if the protests continue.
“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!” Trump tweeted hours before the start of Sunday’s NFL games.
Trump doubled down again in a second tweet a short time later that the protests of players’ kneeling down during the anthem are hurting the league.
“NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.”
Trump’s position is expected to unify more players kneeling during the anthem to protest racial injustice.
Trump lashed out while speaking at a political rally in Huntsville, Ala., on Friday night when he took on the NFL and its players.
“We’re proud of our country. We respect our flag,” Trump said to loud applause at the campaign event. “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. He’s fired! He’s fired!’”
Later Saturday afternoon, Trump repeated his message via Twitter: “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!”
Many NFL players condemned Trump’s remarks on social media and owners followed with statements defending their players and the league.
Sunday’s games began at Wembley Stadium in London, where the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville met. Some players knelt during the anthem, other players, coaches and even Jaguars owner Shad Khan stood and linked arms in an obvious show of solidarity.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a friend of Trump’s, responded Sunday morning to the president’s attack on players.
“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday,” Kraft said in his statement. “I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger. There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics.
“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.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fired back on Saturday in what he called Trump’s “divisive comments.”
“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. 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.”
That prompted a testy response from Trump.
“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!”
Still-unsigned quarterback Colin Kaepernick drew national attention last season while playing for the San Francisco 49ers when he knelt during the national anthem as a protest against racial injustice. A number of players followed Kaepernick’s lead by taking a knee during the anthem.
Trump said an NFL owner who releases a player for kneeling during the anthem would gain support across America.
“Some owner’s gonna do that. He’s gonna say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag? He’s fired,” Trump told the crowd in Alabama on Friday night. “And that owner ... he’ll be the most popular person in this country. Because that’s total disrespect of our heritage. That’s total disrespect of everything we stand for.
“The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s just one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway.”
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said he was “troubled” by the president’s remarks in issuing a lengthy statement.
“I am troubled by the President’s recent comments about our league and our players,” Irsay said. “Sports in America have the unique ability to bring people from all walks of life and from different points of view together to work toward or root for a common goal, and the Indianapolis Colts are proud to be a part of that tradition in our home city and state.
“The vast majority of players in the NFL – especially those who have worn and continue to wear the Horseshoe – have donated millions of dollars to charities, raised money for those affected by recent hurricanes, created charitable foundations, visited schools, mentored students, worked in homeless shelters, cleaned up parks, and put in hours of their personal time toward improving their communities and lives of those around them.
“That’s the spirit in which this nation was founded, and we all need to work tirelessly to bring people together to take on the challenges that face us and give back to the people of our communities. More so than any result on the field, that is a common goal worth rooting for.”
In a statement released Saturday night, Buffalo Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula said the team held meetings to discuss the Trump’s comments and how they would respond to them.
“Several of us met tonight – players, coaches, staff and ownership. Our goal was to provide open dialogue and communication. We listened to one another. We believe it’s the best way to work through any issue we are facing – on and off the field.
“President Trump’s remarks were divisive and disrespectful to the entire NFL community, but we tried to use them as an opportunity to further unify our team and our organization. Our players have the freedom to express themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner and we all agree that our sole message is to provide and to promote an environment that is focused on love and equality.”