Sunday | October 22, 2017
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President’s criticisms spark more protests at NFL games

President Donald Trump’s criticism of players who kneel during the national anthem sparked a mass increase in such protests around the National Football League Sunday, as about 200 players sat, knelt or raised their fists in defiance during early games.

A week ago, just six players protested.

Most of the players on Sunday locked arms with their teammates — some standing, others kneeling — in a show of solidarity. A handful of teams stayed off the field until after “The Star-Spangled Banner” to avoid the issue altogether. As he prepared to board Air Force One to return to Washington from New Jersey, Trump said the players protesting the anthem were “very disrespectful to our country” and called again on owners to stop what he considers unpatriotic displays in America’s most popular sport.

“This has nothing to do with race,” Trump said. “This has to do with respect for our country.”

The president’s attack on athletes turned the anthems — usually sung during commercials — into must-watch television shown live by the networks and Yahoo!, which streamed the game in London. In some NFL stadiums, crowds booed or yelled at players to stand. There was also some applause.

The NFL and its players, often at odds, used Sunday’s anthems to show unity. One of Trump’s biggest supporters in the NFL, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, joined the chorus when he expressed “deep disappointment” with Trump.

“I like Bob very much. He’s my friend. He gave me a Super Bowl ring a month ago. So he’s a good friend of mine and I want him to do what he wants to do,” Trump said. “… We have great people representing our country, especially our soldiers our first responders and they should be treated with respect.

“And when you get on your knee and you don’t respect the American flag or the anthem.”

The protests started more than a year ago when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the anthem as a protest of police treatment of minorities. This season, no team has signed him, and some supporters believe NFL owners are avoiding him because of the controversy.

A handful of white players didn’t stand Sunday, but the vast majority of those actively protesting were black. Defensive star Von Miller was among the large group of Denver Broncos who took a knee in Buffalo Sunday, where Bills running back LeSean McCoy stretched during the anthem.

“We felt like President Trump’s speech was an assault on our most cherished right, freedom of speech,” said Miller, who normally steers clear of politics and social issues.

The issue reverberated across the Atlantic, where about two dozen players took a knee during the playing of the U.S. anthem at Wembley Stadium.

“We stand with our brothers,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “They have the right and we knelt with them today. To protest, non-violent protest, is as American as it gets, so we knelt with them today to let them know that we’re a unified front.”

Jaguars owner Shad Khan and players on both teams who were not kneeling remained locked arm-in-arm throughout the playing of the anthem and “God Save The Queen.” No players knelt during the British anthem.

 

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