On Friday at a campaign rally in Alabama, Donald Trump angrily called on the National Football League and its team owners to fire any “son of a b****” player who chooses to kneel during the playing of the national anthem, as a form of protest. But though the overwhelming majority of players who have engaged in the kneeling protests have been African-American, Trump on Sunday claimed that his remarks were not motivated by their race.
“This has nothing to do with race. I’ve never said anything about race,” Trump told reporters from his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, when reporters asked him if he was attacking black NFL players specifically.
On Friday, Trump told a crowd in Huntsville, Alabama, that NFL owners should react to players who take part in the kneeling protest by saying, “Get that son of a b**** off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!”
Trump added that not only should NFL owners fire players who kneel during the national anthem, but that NFL fans should “leave the stadium” if they see players kneeling during the anthem, according to a CNN report.
But on Sunday, Trump appeared to backtrack on his call for an NFL boycott by fans, telling reporters who asked him if he were encouraging his voters to boycott the NFL, “No, no, no – I don’t – they can do whatever they want.”
The protests started during the 2016 NFL preseason, when Colin Kaepernick, who is African-American and was then a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the anthem during an August game, saying later that he was protesting against racial injustice, in particular the repeated killings of black citizens by police officers.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said at the time. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
But Trump’s remarks on Friday set off the most widespread anthem protests yet throughout the NFL on Sunday, as players from several teams including the Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, and Miami Dolphins knelt down during the ceremonial playing of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Three teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, and Tennessee Titans, refused to take part in the anthem at all, remaining in their respective locker rooms until the anthem was complete.
One player, Michael Thomas of the Miami Dolphins, later explained his decision to kneel by saying that he took Trump’s attacks “personally” and staged his protest for the sake of his young daughter “who has to live in this world.” Watch Thomas deliver his emotional remarks in the video below.
Dolphins safety Michael Thomas started breaking up when talking about Trump calling him “a son of a b!tch.” pic.twitter.com/Z4wroPcvzW
— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) September 24, 2017
On Saturday, Trump also lashed out at NBA superstar Stephen Curry of the champion Golden State Warriors, withdrawing the team’s invitation to the White House to celebrate their championship because Curry — who is black — “hesitated,” Trump said.
“It’s surreal, to be honest,” Curry said in response to Trump’s attack. “I don’t know why he feels the need to target certain individuals, rather than others. I have an idea of why, but it’s kind of beneath a leader of a country to go that route. That’s not what leaders do.”
[Featured Image By Brynn Anderson/AP Images]