NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement criticizing President Donald Trump’s comments at a Friday rally in which he called on NFL owners to fire any “son of a b----” who protests during the national anthem.
In the statement, Goodell never mentioned Trump by name, but said “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,” per USA Today.
The comments from Trump to which Goodell was replying came during a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama for Senator Luther Strange on Friday. Responding to a number of players who have chosen to kneel, sit or raise their fists in protest of racial inequality while the national anthem is played before games, Trump said such displays are a “total disrespect of our heritage. That's a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.”
Trump went on to say that any NFL owner who fired a player protesting the anthem would become “the most popular person in this country” for a week. He also encouraged NFL fans to walk out of the stadium if a player attempts to protest during the anthem.
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Friday was not the first time Trump has gone after anthem protesters, especially quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began the protests and remains an unsigned free agent, which his supporters say is the result of owners blacklisting him for his political activism.
In August 2016, as a candidate, Trump said in an interview that Kaepernick’s actions were “a terrible thing. And, you know, maybe he should find a new country that works better for him. Let him try. It won’t happen.”
In March 2017, as president, Trump again blasted Kaepernick, seemingly taking credit for keeping him unsigned by citing a report that owners were afraid he would tweet about them if they signed the quarterback.
“Your San Francisco quarterback, I'm sure nobody ever heard of him,” Trump said at a rally. “It was reported that NFL owners don't want to pick him up because they don't want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Do you believe that? I just saw that. I just saw that.”
At the time, Goodell said in an interview that he was “fine” with Trump’s comments.
Goodell’s statement condemning Trump’s comments comes on the heels of a report Thursday from Yahoo Sports that players sent him a memo requesting league support for players to become more involved in social issues and communities, including an activism awareness month promotion.
“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’s statement began.
On social media, users expressed a wide range of opinions on Goodell’s statement. Some Trump supporters bashed him and promised to boycott the NFL. Some critics expressed surprise that Goodell, who has been reluctant to talk politics in the past, responded as he did. Still others said Goodell’s comments did not go far enough in condemning Trump.