Mnuchin: NFL Anthem Protests Not About Party, Race — About Respect for Country

Treasury secretary slams league for 'picking and choosing what they want to enforce'

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 22 Nov 2017 at 10:20 AM

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin criticized leaders of the National Football League for “picking and choosing what they want to enforce” when it comes to players kneeling during the national anthem played before their games, during an interview Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week.”

President Donald Trump ignited a fierce national debate on Friday when he slammed players who choose to protest racial injustice by refusing to stand for the national anthem. Trump asked his supporters, “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.'”

The NFL commissioner, football players, and other American sports stars took to social media to criticize Trump.

But Mnuchin argued that the president was not seeking to sow discord but rather start a conversation "about respect for the country" and respect for those "who have made great, great sacrifices" to protect the freedoms sports stars enjoy.

When ABC reporter Martha Raddatz asked Mnuchin if the issue at stake was football players' First Amendment rights, Mnuchin replied, "No, it's not."

"They have the right to have their First Amendment off the field. This is a job, and the employers have the right when the players are working to have rules," Mnuchin said. "This isn't about politics. This is about respect for the country and the people who have made great, great sacrifices for this country."

Noting that the NFL "has all different types of rules" about its players' conduct and appearance while on the job, the Treasury secretary argued, "The president is saying that the owners should have a rule that players should have to stand in respect for the national anthem."

"Why does the NFL have all these other rules that they enforce, that they fine players? This is about respect for the military, the first responders," Mnuchin said. "So the NFL is picking and choosing what they want to enforce."

"This isn't about democrats. It's not about republicans. It's not about race. It's not about free speech. They can do free speech on their own time, that this is about respect for the military and first responders and the country," Mnuchin added.

Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short also defended the president's NFL remarks, telling NBC News' "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd that "the president is standing with the vast majority of Americans who believe that our flag should be respected."

"There are ways to express concerns about social causes, Chuck. But there's also generations of Americans who've fought and died for the freedoms we enjoy that are represented in that flag and our national anthem," Short said. "And I think the president is saying, 'Yeah, players have a First Amendment right. But NFL owners also have a right, and that right is that these players represent their teams. And if the owners want to get rid of them, they should be allowed to get rid of them.'"

When Todd asked him about how the president's criticisms of black football players protesting the national anthem may impact strained race relations, Short pointed out that "we had a historic election in 2008 electing the first African-American president."

"But race relations didn't improve under his tenure, either," Short said of former President Barack Obama's eight years in office. "I think the president believes it is his role to improve race relations ... so we are anxious to engage in that conversation. I think you'll see the president take action on that."

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