President Donald Trump on Monday stoked his feud with NFL players who kneel during the national anthem, saying his remarks criticizing their protests have “nothing to do with race” — but instead with “respect” for the nation and its symbols.
Trump’s comments in morning tweets came amid backlash from professional athletes and Democratic politicians who have called Trump’s remarks racially tinged and divisive.
“The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race,” Trump said in a tweet posted at 6:39 a.m. “It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!”
Monday was the fourth consecutive day that Trump used his favored social media platform to take aim at NFL players who take a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The players say they are trying to draw attention to the number of black civilians killed in altercations with police.
Trump, in a speech to supporters in Alabama Friday, referred to the protesting players as sons “of a [expletive],” who should be booted from the league.
The speech spurred condemnation from players and team owners, including several, such as New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, who endorsed Trump’s presidential campaign.
“I certainly disagree with what he said. I thought it was just divisive,” Brady said Monday on Boston sports talk radio station WEEI.
But on Monday, Trump lauded NFL fans who “booed the players who kneeled yesterday,” referring to dozens of players who resumed their protest on Sunday.
Team members across the league, in a show of unity Sunday, locked arms during the national anthem. Several team owners, including Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, a Trump campaign supporter, rejected the president’s remarks. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks opted to stay in their locker rooms while the national anthem was played.
NFL communications director Joe Lockhart said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “was very proud” of the league’s response.
“I’d say that, looking at yesterday, everyone should know, including the president, that this is what real locker room talk is,” said Lockhart, who was press secretary for former President Bill Clinton.
The locker room talk comment was a swipe at Trump, who was caught on tape discussing how he treats women, saying at one point that he could grab them by their private parts. Trump later defended his comments as “locker room talk.”
Cleveland Cavaliers basketball star LeBron James said Monday that Trump “doesn’t understand the power that he has for being a leader of this beautiful country.”
James said, “We are at a time where the most powerful position in the world has an opportunity to bring us closer together as a people and inspire the youth and put the youth at ease by saying that it is okay for me to walk down the street and not be judged because of the color of my skin or because of my race,” James said.
“He doesn’t even care. Maybe he does, but he doesn’t care,” said James.
NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., in a tweet that quoted former President John F. Kennedy, wrote: “All Americans [are] granted rights [to] peaceful protests. . . . Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Earnhardt’s tweet came after NASCAR officials announced Sunday they would fire those who protested the anthem. Trump commended NASCAR’s stance on Twitter Monday, saying he was “so proud.”
New York Knicks basketball player Enes Kanter, a native of Turkey, drew parallels between political unrest in his country and the situation in the United States.
“I just feel bad because when I look at America, when I was at a young age, it’s about freedom of religion, freedom of speech, now all of these amazing people are going through this tough time and it’s breaking my heart,” Kanter said. “I’m not from here, I’m from Turkey. But still going through this with these guys, I feel them because I’m going through the same things with my country too.”
New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles said in an interview that Trump and players should focus on “the issues” facing the country. “The issues are the things that happened in Charlottesville and you got hurricane victims here and there. You got to focus on the issues, because the he-say, she-say, the Twitter beef and all that stuff it really doesn’t matter,” Bowles said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Trump’s remarks weren’t “about the president being against anyone. This is about the president and millions of Americans being for something, being for honoring our flag, honoring our national anthem and honoring the men and women who fought to defend it.”
Asked if Trump regretted using the term “son of a [expletive],” to refer to the protesting players, Sanders said: “I think that it’s always appropriate for the president of the United States to defend our flag, to defend the national anthem and to defend the men and women who fought and died to defend it.”
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took after Trump on Monday, calling it “lunacy” to focus on the NFL protests instead of threats from North Korea, the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico and other “real issues.”
“This is lunacy, what we are doing. All this time with this silly debate — should you kneel? Should you stand? Meanwhile, people’s lives are at stake,” Cuomo told the annual conference of the New York State Business Council in Bolton Landing.
With Bob Glauber, Al Iannazzone, Yancey Roy and Calvin Watkins