In a Sunday tweet, President Trump responded to the NFL protests by saying that they make for "bad ratings," and called for players to instead stand "with locked arms," rather than kneel. It's the latest development in Trump's escalating feud with professional football players, many of whom opted to take a knee before their respective games on Sunday during the Star-Spangled banner to protest state-sponsored racism against people of color.
"Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country," Trump tweeted. "Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!"
At a Friday rally in Alabama, Trump said that he wished NFL owners would fire any "son of a b*tch" player who kneels during the national anthem at games. This was most likely a reference to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who remained seated during the national anthem at a series of games in 2016. Kaepernick, who's now a free agent, explained at the time that he's "not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."
Trump didn't mention Kaepernick by name on Friday, but said he'd "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!," said Trump, pretending to be one of the league owners in question. "He's fired!" In the same speech, he criticized the NFL's attempts to make the game safer for players, arguing that new anti-concussion protocols are "ruining the game."
In response to Trump's tirade, which he delivered at a rally for a Republican senate candidate, many NFL players on various teams decided to exactly what Trump demanded they not do, and kneel during the national anthem. Players from the New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins took knees during the national anthem, according to CNN.
In addition, all of the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans, as well as all but one Pittsburgh Steeler, refused to even take the field until after the anthem was over.
"We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms," said the Seahawks in a statement.
Some players expressed themselves in different ways on Sunday. Garett Bolles and Virgil Green of the Broncos stood with their fists in the air during the national anthem, while other players on various teams remained standing but locked arms with their teammates who were kneeling. Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants stood with a raised fist after scoring a touchdown.
Trump also fumed against protesting NFL players over the weekend in a series of angry tweets.
"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 wrote. "If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!" In fact, the First Amendment of the Constitution grants free speech rights to all Americans regardless of their income or occupation.
Also over the weekend, Trump embroiled himself in a dispute with two of the most high-profile players in the NBA, Steph Curry and LeBron James. Curry and the rest of the Golden State Warriors had been invited to the White House to celebrate their title, but Curry and coach Steve Kerr both said that they didn't want to go out of opposition to Trump and his policies. In response, Trump said on Twitter that he was revoking Curry's invitation, prompting James to defend Curry and mock the president.
"U bum @StephCurry30 already said he ain't going!," James wrote on Twitter, addressing Trump. "So therefore ain't no invite. Going to the White House was a great honor until you showed up!"