HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — President Trump has some advice for National Football League owners: Fire players who kneel during the national anthem. He’s also encouraging fans to walk out in protest.
And the president is bemoaning what he describes as a decline in violence in the sport.
“They’re ruining the game,” he saidon Friday night that veered beyond politics.
Several athletes, including a handful of NFL players, have refused to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest of the treatment of blacks by police. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the trend last year when he played for the San Francisco 49ers,by an NFL team for this season.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement Saturday morning in response to Mr. Trump’s comments.
“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.
Mr. Trump, who once owned the New Jersey Generals of the U.S. Football League, says those players are disrespecting the American flag and deserve to lose their jobs.
“That’s a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for,” Mr. Trump said, encouraging owners to act.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,” Mr. Trump said to loud applause.
Mr. Trump also predicted that any owner who followed the presidential encouragement would become “the most popular person in this country” — at least for a week.
The NFL Players Association reacted to Mr. Trump’s comments Saturday morning in a statement.
“We will never back down. We no longer can afford to stick to sports,” executive director DeMaurice Smith said. “This union … will never back down when it comes to constitutional rights of our players as citizens as well as their safety as men in a game that exposes them to great risks.”
Mr. Trump, who was in Alabama, also blamed a drop in NFL ratings on the nation’s interest in “yours truly” as well as what he contended was a decline in violence in the game.
He said players are being thrown out for aggressive tackles, and it’s “not the same game.”
Over the past several seasons, the NFL and college…