Donald Trump has told the entire NFL that it is “very important” they stand for the national anthem on Sunday to “respect our flag and our country” amid the ‘Take a Knee’ protests that have engulfed the game.
More than 200 players took part in protests last week against racial and social inequality, with many players choosing to kneel down during the American national anthem that drew widespread attention, praise and criticism in differing measures.
The entire Dallas Cowboys roster and coaching team, including owner Jerry Jones, knelt down in Arizona – which drew a hostile reception from the home fans – while the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks all chose to remain in the tunnel until the anthem had finished.
Protests are expected to be at a minimum on Sunday however, with teams now calling for unity, and NFC North rivals Green Bay Packers chose to link arms with each other in a show of unity rather than protest, with fans in the stands putting their rivalry aside to do the same.
However, that did not stop President Trump warning the NFL – with whom he has been involved in a war of words of late – as he issued his expectation that they must stand and honour the national anthem this weekend.
“Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our National Anthem. Respect our Flag and our Country!” Mr Trump posted on Twitter, before adding video of the Chicago Blackhawks and the St Louis Blues with the caption: “19,000 RESPECTING our National Anthem! #StandForOurAnthem.”
On Tuesday Trump called on the league to ban players from kneeling in protest at games while the national anthem is played, tweeting "The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can't kneel during our National Anthem!" Trump wrote.
And on Thursday he continued the crusade, drawing a rebuke from the NFL after he said football team owners are afraid of their players.
The Republican president told "Fox & Friends" in an interview that he is friends with many NFL team owners and they were "in a box" over how to handle the kneeling protests of racial disparities in the country.
"They say, 'We are in a situation where we have to do something.' I think they're afraid of their players, you want to know the truth. And I think it's disgraceful," he said. Trump did not elaborate.
The NFL rejected the president's remarks as not factual.
The protests seen across the game this season stem from former NFL quarterback Colin Kaeperknick’s stand against racial and social inequality last season, with the then-San Francisco 49ers star the first to kneel down in protest following a string of police incidents involving black citizens. Kaeperknick is now without a team due to his decision to protest, with Mr Trump repeatedly attacking the American footballer verbally.
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