On Friday night, Donald Trump used his platform to launch an attack on NFL players who have kneeled in protest of racial injustices in the country. Despite the fact that Trump, himself, declined to fight for our country during the Vietnam War, the celebrity-in-chief challenged NFL owners to fire anyone who “disrespects our flag,” by kneeling during the national anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!” Trump said at a rally at Huntsville’s Von Bruan Center. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t now it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
During the speech, Trump also credited the league’s dip in ratings to the league’s rule changes that made the game less violent. His comments came on the heels of Aaron Hernandez’s fiancé’s lawsuit against the league for withholding information about his brain condition, which was revealed to have been a “severe” case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
“The NFL ratings are down massively,” he said. “Now the No. 1 reason happens to be they like watching what’s happening …with yours truly. They like what’s happening. Because you know today if you hit too hard: 15 yards! Throw him out of the game!” he said. “They’re ruining the game! That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game.”
“But do you know what’s hurting the game more than that?” he continued. “When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re 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. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway.”
In turn, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as well as the NFLPA issued statements denouncing Trump’s comments.
“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. “Divisive comments like these demonastrate 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.”
The executive director of the NFLPA said the union “will never back down when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of our players as citizens as well as their safety as men who compete in a game that exposes them to great risks.”