WASHINGTON – Somebody had to say it. It was left to Donald Trump, the president who doesn’t mind speaking his mind.
“Get that son of a b—- off the field!” he shouted at an Alabama rally Friday night, calling for a boycott of NFL teams whose players are permitted by their teams to “take a knee” during the national anthem
“If you see it – even if it’s one player – leave the stadium,” Trump advised. “I guarantee things will stop.”
Watch President Trump’s comments (Warning: This video contains explicit language that may offend some readers):
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the “take a knee” trend a year ago when he was an injured backup player for the San Francisco 49ers. He said at the time that he was taking a position against “a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Kaepernick has been unable to find a team that will sign him this year.
Since then, other players have followed suit – including some in the NBA.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—-h off the field right now?'” Trump asked.
The crowd responded with chants of “USA, USA!”
The NFL’s TV ratings have slid since Kaepernick began the trend in September 2016.
Trump said Friday that NFL owners would be instantly popular if they pulled protesting players off the field.
Trump went on to offer other criticism of the NFL, saying American football is “not the same game anymore” since referees have clamped down on aggressive tackles, throwing penalty flags whenever they hear the crack of a vicious hit.
“They are ruining the game, right?” he asked. “They are ruining the game.”
Players on the field “want to hit,” he complained.
“But you know what’s hurting the game more than that?” Trump asked. “When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they are playing our great national anthem. The only thing you could do better is, if you see it – even if it’s one player – leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Pick up and leave. Just pick up and leave.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fired back at Trump Saturday for encouraging league owners to remove players who take a knee during the national anthem, saying Trump’s “divisive comments” show “an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL.”
“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture,” Goodell said in a statement. “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. 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.”
On Saturday, following Trump’s comments in Alabama, Oakland A’s rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell, who earlier in the day bashed Trump on Instagram, became the first major-league player to kneel during the national anthem.
“My decision had been coming for a long time,” Maxwell said, citing his own experiences with racism while growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, which is where Trump made disparaging comments about NFL players who choose to kneel for the anthem. “The only way we can come together is by informing. … To single out NFL players for doing this isn’t something we should be doing — I felt it should be a little more broad.”
Maxwell plans to continue kneeling for the anthem.
“He’s very courageous,” said A’s outfielder Khris Davis, who hit his 40th homer Saturday. “I respect his decision, he’s just exercising his rights as an American.”
In other games Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers remained in the locker room during the national anthem, but offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, chose to stand at the head of the tunnel leading onto the field.
New England Patriots players took a knee and fans booed and chanted “Stand Up!”
In Philadelphia, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie stood on the sideline during the anthem and safety Malcolm Jenkins, as he always does, raised his fist.
Eagles players linked arms, as did Giants players across the field.