President Donald Trump blasted “son of a b**ch” National Football League players who choose to protest by kneeling during the national anthem at games during a raucous Friday night rally in Huntsville, Alabama.
Trump showed up to stump for Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) in his upcoming GOP primary bid against Judge Roy Moore, but he deviated from his script to bash NFL free agent Colin Kaepernick and other players who have protested against racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem played before their games.
“When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they are playing our great national anthem — the only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium,” Trump said.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b**ch off the field right now. He is fired,'” Trump continued. “They’re ruining the game.”
“Luther and I and everyone in this arena tonight are unified by the same great American values. We’re proud of our country. We respect our flag,” Trump added.
The president defended his NFL criticisms in two tweets Saturday.
“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!” Trump tweeted.
Polls conducted during the last several months have shown that most Americans are weary of the politicization of sports and the highly-publicized national anthem protests.
A Rasmussen Reports poll released this week found a sizable 34 percent of NFL viewers are less likely to watch football games because of the kneeling protests. A J.D. Power poll released in late July found that the player-led national anthem kneeling protests was the top reason that led 26 percent of viewers to watch fewer sports games. In addition, ratings slumped by an average of eight percent per game during the course of the 2016 NFL season.
A Yahoo survey released this week also showed that 44 percent of football fans claim that they will cease watching games if the protests against “The Star-Spangled Banner” continue.
Trump’s comments dominated the rally’s news coverage Friday evening and Saturday morning as NFL players and officials rushed to defend Kaepernick and other players who politicized football by refusing to kneel during the national anthem.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responded to Trump Saturday in a statement, saying, “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,” Goodell said.
Lions tight end Eric Ebron tweeted Friday, “Does anyone tell trump [sic] to stick to politics, like they tell us to stick to sports? Smh.”
In light of the polling on the matter, the decision to side with Kaepernick appears likely to backfire on Goodell and NFL franchises. The public opposition to the protests could become even more of a headache for NFL officials if other players follow Kaepernick’s lead in specifically targeting police officers.
Kaepernick sported socks in September 2016 that depicted police officers as pigs, Huffington Post editor Philip Lewis reported.
In addition to criticizing national anthem protesters Friday and Saturday, Trump retaliated against Golden State Warriors guard and two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry by rescinding his invitation to the White House after Curry publicly voiced his opposition to Trump. Curry’s entire team had been invited to the White House to celebrate its 2017 championship title.
“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” Trump tweeted Saturday.
Curry told reporters Friday that “we don’t stand for basically what our president has — the things that he’s said and the things that he hasn’t said at the right times — that we won’t stand for it.”
“By acting and not going, hopefully that will inspire some change when it comes to what we tolerate in this country, what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye toward. It’s not just the act of not going; there are things you have to do in the back end that you have to push that message into motion,” Curry added. “We’re all trying to do what we can using our platforms, using our opportunities to shed light on that. That’s kind of where I stand on that.”
Several leading sports stars piled on the president over the Curry and Kaepernick firestorm.
“A #POTUS whose name alone creates division and anger. Whose words inspire dissension and hatred can’t possibly ‘Make America Great Again,'” former Lakers star Kobe Bryant tweeted.
Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James tweeted against Trump, saying, “U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”
Rockets point guard Chris Paul tweeted, “With everything that’s going on in our country, why are YOU focused on who’s kneeling and visiting the White House??? #StayInYoLane”