While delivering a public address at a rally in Alabama, President Donald Trump shared his unfiltered thoughts on the NFL and certain players. Trump called Colin Kaepernick a "son of a b*tch" and told NFL team owners to fire any player who "disrespects our flag."
"Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners," Trump said, "when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘get that son of a b*tch off the field right now. He is fired. He’s fired!'"
Trump was in the southern state to support Sen. Luther Strange who is scheduled to run in a primary election next Tuesday, but the president's speech turned into an diatribe against NFL players who protest. Many saw it as a veiled shot at Kaepernick when he deployed the "son of a b*tch" descriptor in front of his Huntsville crowd, which erupted in chants of "USA! USA! USA!" after Trump's comments.
Trump went on to talk about the "many, many freedoms" Americans have as well as the current state of NFL ratings. "You know, some owner is going to do that," Trump enthusiastically told his crowd, "He's going to say, 'That guy that disrespects our flag, he's fired.' And that owner — they don't know it, they're friends of mine — they'll be most popular person for a week." He reiterated how "disrespectful" it was. "That's a total disrespect of our heritage, that's a total disrespect of everything we stand for. I know we have freedoms and we have freedom of choice and many, many different freedoms but you know what? It's still totally disrespectful," the president said.
"NFL ratings are down massively," Trump informed his audience. Trump boasted that he himself was the "number one reason" as to why the NFL's ratings were apparently declining. "They like watching what's happening on [television] with yours truly," he said with a grin. But he went on to blame "people taking the knee when they're playing our great national anthem" as the reason behind the decline.
NFL analysts and sports journalists have pointed that the primary reason behind the NFL's faltering ratings is not Kaepernick's political protest, it is its very own economic model.
In 2016, Kaepernick gained nationwide attention as a player for the San Francisco 49ers when he refused to stand up during the American national anthem played before the beginning of a game. While pointing to police brutality in the United States, Kaepernick explained his refusal to NFL media in an exclusive interview, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
In response to Kaepernick's protest, his team issued an official statement respecting his right to express himself freely. "In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem," the 49ers' official statement read.
Trump's statement was met with vociferous criticism from observers who noted that his comments against Kaepernick were hypocritical given his previous comments delivered after the deadly neo-Nazi rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. In a statement that stunned many, Trump said there were "very fine people" among those who marched with the white supremacists.
People did not lose sight of the president's comments and raised them after his Alabama address. One Twitter user noted, "Trump was quicker and more vehement in his hatred of Colin Kaepernick’s non-violent protest than he was of Nazis. Take note of that." Another social media user said Trump was "in Alabama, stirring an angry crowd to boo a black man who dared engage in peaceful protest."
The NFL itself issued an official statement after Trump's speech, making clear where it stood on the matter. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, "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."
Goodell added, "Divisive comments like [Trump's] 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."