US President Donald Trump on Thursday continued to insist that NFL players must stand up for the national anthem, calling protests in which they do otherwise “terrible.”
Trump provoked the league Friday when he said NFL players who kneel during the anthem should be “fired.”
On Sunday and Monday, teams, players, and even NFL owners around the league joined in protest to Trump’s remarks, with some teams linking arms, dozens of individual players kneeling, and a few teams staying off the field altogether until after the anthem.
On Thursday, asked about the protests, which started last season when Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback then playing for the San Francisco 49ers, knelt during the national anthem to protest racial inequality, Trump told “Fox and Friends” that he thought NFL owners were “in a box” and that some had joined the protests over the past week to appease players because they’re “afraid” of them.
“I have so many friends that are owners. And they’re in a box,” Trump said. “I mean I’ve spoken to a couple of them. 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.”
Trump said NFL owners must get “tough” and do something about the protests because ratings and attendance were down from recent highs, a fact Trump has repeatedly linked to the protests, though that is just one of many possible explanations that have surfaced.
On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that he spoke with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and that the Cowboys would continue standing for the anthem. Jones on Monday night joined the Cowboys on the field in kneeling and linking arms before standing when the anthem played.
On “Fox and Friends,” Trump suggested that the NFL could make standing for the anthem a rule because “they have rules for everything.”
“They have to do something about it … they can stop it,” Trump said. “You know, they have rules for everything. You can’t dance in the end zone. You can’t wear the pink socks, relative to breast cancer, which is one of the places – they have rules for everything. Why aren’t they honoring this country by enforcing a rule that’s been in existence for a long time?”
Trump said he had seen the protests, again calling them “terrible,” grow since Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem last season. But while a handful of players had indeed continued his form of protest, Kaepernick himself has not played this season, and the protests had mostly faded from the national conversation until Trump’s remarks Friday.
Trump also told “Fox and Friends” that he decided to encourage players to stand for the anthem out of “respect” for the country, and he said “most people” agreed with him. While a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted this week found that a majority of adult Americans did think players should stand for the anthem, a majority also disagreed with Trump’s specific assertion that players who kneel should be fired.