Donald Trump has previously spoken about Colin Kaepernick and protesting players in the NFL, but he used his harshest language during a speech in Alabama on Friday night.
At a rally in support of incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in Hunstville, Ala., Trump said team owners in the NFL should immediately fire any player who protests during the national anthem and “get that son of a bitch off the field.”
Kaepernick began a movement in the NFL during the 2016 preseason when he began to sit and later kneeled during the national anthem as a way to show support for people of color who are being oppressed in the United States, and to take a stand against police brutality.
In the 13 months since the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback began the protest, other NFL players including Malcolm Jenkins, Marshawn Lynch, Eric Reid, Jeremy Lane, Brandon Marshall, and others, have also protested during the national anthem.
In March, Trump took credit for the free agency of Kaepernick and bragged that NFL owners were afraid to pick up the quarterback because they didn’t want “to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump.”
The NFL has mostly remained silent during Trump’s rise to presidency, but the comments Friday night forced a response, albeit a lukewarm one.
What Donald Trump said in Alabama
During Trump’s speech at the rally, he spent about three minutes talking about the NFL, beginning with his thoughts on protests during the national anthem and eventually turning to his thoughts on the NFL’s television ratings and penalties.
— CNN (@CNN) September 23, 2017
Here is the full transcript of Trump’s comments regarding the NFL:
Trump's comments in Alabama tonight on the NFL's rule changes and ongoing anthem protests. pic.twitter.com/yEUumh31pq
— Bryan Armen Graham (@BryanAGraham) September 23, 2017
Less than 24 hours after putting the NFL in his crosshairs, Trump turned his attention to NBA star Stephen Curry, who was “uninvited” from visiting the White House in a tweet Saturday morning.
How the NFL responded
The NFL waited until Saturday morning to release a response to Trump. In it, the league called the comments “divisive,” but was vague regarding the details and didn’t mention player safety, freedom of expression, or even who made the divisive comments in the first place.
New NFL statement pic.twitter.com/XHPgVvPPfH
— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) September 23, 2017
The NFL has remained quiet and Roger Goodell has deflected most questions regarding Trump. Shortly after the election in November, he said he believed Trump’s comments about women would only make the league’s attempts to curtail domestic violence more difficult.
However, Goodell passed on the chance to respond to Trump’s Muslim ban and previous comments about protesting players.
How NFL players responded
The NFL Players Association responded before the NFL with a brief statement from executive director DeMaurice Smith early Saturday morning.
We will never back down. We no longer can afford to stick to sports. pic.twitter.com/Ec3Bc4qt9h
— DeMaurice Smith (@DeSmithNFLPA) September 23, 2017
Plenty of former and current NFL players went to Twitter with their own thoughts about Trump’s comments Friday night:
Trump stay in ur place… football have nothing to do wit u smh
— Zach Brown (@ZachBrown_55) September 23, 2017
Does anyone tell trump to stick to politics, like they tell us to stick to sports? Smh.
— Eric Ebron (@Ebron85) September 23, 2017
cloth has more value than people. apparently. https://t.co/PZjeRA9861
— feeno (@ArianFoster) September 23, 2017
I’m actually glad Trump said what he did. Publicly with an audience . Once again it empowers the players to live their truth . Show colors.
— Ryan Grant (@RyanGrant25) September 23, 2017
I hope more players kneel https://t.co/FjBHNhESh0
— Terrance Knighton (@MisterRoast98) September 23, 2017
I know, when the ratings change my joints actually hurt more. I thought it was arthritis but turns out it was the ratings. Please be gentle. https://t.co/FAPmuY1DSb
— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) September 23, 2017
Continue to use your voices and your platforms for racial equality and to stop injustices in our communities. This is bigger than us!!! ✊🏿
— Michael Thomas (@Michael31Thomas) September 23, 2017
Smh! Gives more reason https://t.co/TyVCJgQK0L
— T.J. Ward (@BossWard43) September 23, 2017
Guess that makes me a proud bitch!
— Teresa Kaepernick (@B4IleaveU) September 23, 2017