Tue, Sep 26, 2017 - Page 7 News List

NFL players, team owners defy Trump

‘DISAPPOINTED’:New England Patriots chairman Robert Kraft said he supports his players’ right to peacefully effect social change and raise awareness

Reuters, SOMERSET, New Jersey, and WASHINGTON

Members of the New England Patriots kneel during the US National Anthem before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

US National Football League (NFL) players on Sunday sat out, knelt and linked arms during pregame national anthems played across the country and in London, hours after US President Donald Trump called on fans to boycott teams that do not discipline players who protest.

In the first few games since Trump stepped up his criticism of NFL players, dozens of players and coaches of teams, including the Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins, did not stand for the US national anthem and took a knee, a gesture that began last year as a protest over police treatment of African-Americans and other minorities.

The Pittsburgh Steelers waited off the field during the anthem before their game against the Chicago Bears in Chicago to avoid “playing politics” in divisive times, coach Mike Tomlin said.

In Detroit, several members of the Lions knelt, while singer Rico Lavelle dropped to one knee and pumped a fist in the air at the end of his performance of the national anthem.

In Philadelphia, city police officers joined with Eagles and rival New York Giants players and Eagles team owner Jeffrey Lurie to link arms during the anthem in a sign of solidarity.

Trump made a series of comments over the weekend criticizing players who refuse to stand for the national anthem.

“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday morning. “Fire or suspend!”

In another tweet, Trump, who spent the weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, said that the “league should back” NFL fans who are upset about the protests.

The form of protest began last year when then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick put one knee to the ground during pregame renditions of the Star Spangled Banner. Several players have since made similar gestures.

Kaepernick initially started his protests last year by sitting during the anthem, but when critics said it was a sign of disrespect, he instead took to kneeling.

At a political rally on Friday in support of his favored US Senate candidate in a special election in Alabama, Trump suggested any protesting football player was a “son of a bitch” and should lose his job.

The comments against African-American athletes, who are taking a stand against institutional racism and inequality, stirred up Trump’s conservative base as he grapples with North Korea’s nuclear threats, an investigation of Russian meddling in last year’s US election and ties to Trump associates while also struggling for a legislative win on healthcare in the US Congress.

As the NFL community began to speak out against Trump’s comments on Sunday, including people he considers friends and allies, Trump took to Twitter again on Sunday afternoon.

“Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!” he wrote.

In a follow-up Tweet, Trump announced that the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, which won the Stanley Cup, accepted his invitation to the White House.

“Great team!” he wrote.

On Sunday morning, NFL managers, coaches and owners began to weigh in on the feud, criticizing the US president for calling out players’ political dissent.

New England Patriots chairman and chief executive officer Robert Kraft, who has dined with Trump and who the US president considers a friend, criticized Trump and defended players’ right to protest.

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