NFL protests that began in 2016 expanded across the nation this weekend after President Trump said on Friday that players who take part in kneeling or sitting during the national anthem should be fired.
“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!’” the president said. “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 know it (but) they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
Doubling down on his comments, he tweeted Saturday afternoon that players “should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country).”
These comments allude to the mass protest across the league that began with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who famously knelt during the anthem last season to protest racial inequality.
“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 in 2016. “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.”
Throughout the remainder of the 2016/2017 year, many other players showed solidarity with Kaepernick by kneeling, sitting or raising a fist to the sky during the anthem.
The former starting NFL quarterback is not currently on an NFL roster and has not spoken publicly about his movement in several months.
However, players have continued to protest during the anthem without him. Trump’s most recent statements led to widespread protests throughout the weekend. Protestors included members of the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars, who chose to protest overseas during their game at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Tight end Julius Thomas was one of the players who took a knee Sunday. Thomas, who had previously stood during the anthem, knelt next to three of his teammates, one of whom was former Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil, now a starter for the Dolphins.
When asked what changed for him, Thomas said, “to have the president trying to intimidate people — I wanted to send a message that I don’t condone that. I’m not OK with somebody trying to prevent someone from standing up for what they think is important.”
While many players sat or took a knee, some teams didn’t take the field for the anthem at all. Others stood for the anthem but locked arms in solidarity.
In response to Sunday’s clear anti-Trump sentiments, the president tweeted: “Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!”