NFL players have defiantly reacted to President Donald Trump‘s criticism, with at least 130 players kneeling, sitting linking arms, giving black power salutes and not even showing up for the national anthem out of protest.
Players from both the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars were the first to protest by taking a knee ahead of their game at Wembley Stadium in London on Sunday morning. No players were kneeling during the playing of God Save The Queen – the British national anthem.
The defiance against Trump continued as games kicked off across the country with an unprecedented number of players kneeling and most teams in the early afternoon games locking arms in solidarity.
At least 20 Patriots players were spotted kneeling as Tom Brady linked arms with his teammates.
Pittsburgh Steelers players were absent from the sideline and remained in the locker room during the Star Spangled Banner. Alejandro Villanueva, who served three tours in Afghanistan, was the only Steelers’ player to stand outside the tunnel for the anthem.
The protests from each team came in the wake of Trump’s critical remarks toward players who don’t stand for the anthem. Last week across the entire NFL, only four players knelt or sat, and two stood with their fists raised.
Players from the Seahawks and Titans remained in their locker rooms ahead of their game in Nashville on Sunday afternoon. The Seahawks walked onto the field arm in arm as members of the crowd booed.
The President took to Twitter on Sunday afternoon following the protests, tweeting: ‘Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!’
‘Courageous Patriots have fought and died for our great American Flag – we MUST honor and respect it! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!’
Later in the afternoon Trump gave an impromptu press conference from the tarmac at Morristown Municipal Airport – where he arrived to board Air Force One and head back to DC after a weekend in Bedminster.
He addressed the controversy over athletes kneeling to say his criticism has ‘nothing’ to do with race.
‘This has nothing to do with race. I never said anything about race. This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag,’ he told reporters.
During the conference he also doubled down on calls for players who protest the flag to be fired, saying: ‘It’s very disrespect to our flag and to our country, so I certainly think the owners should do something about it.’
When asked about Robert Kraft’s comments, Trump said he thought it was ‘okay’ that the Patriots owner was disappointed in him, saying: ‘He has to take his ideas and go with what he wants.
‘I think it’s very disrespectful to our country. I think it’s very disrespectful to our flag.’
On Sunday the owner, who has previously been forward about his friendship with the president, said the comments ‘deeply disappointed’ him.
Trump had earlier denounced the kneeling protests by NFL players and rescinded a White House invitation for NBA champion Stephen Curry in a two day rant that targeted top professional athletes and brought swift condemnation from league executives and star players alike on Saturday.
Early Sunday morning, Trump continued his Twitter tirade and called for an NFL boycott.
‘If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!’ Trump tweeted.
‘…NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.’
Jaguars owner Shad Khan joined his players on the field on Sunday in London and was spotted linking arms with them in a show of unity. Khan was among the owners who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration.
‘It was a privilege to stand on the sidelines with the Jacksonville Jaguars today for the playing of the U.S. national anthem at Wembley Stadium. I met with our team captains prior to the game to express my support for them, all NFL players and the league following the divisive and contentious remarks made by President Trump, and was honored to be arm in arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during our anthem,’ Khan said, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said he ‘100 percent’ supported his players’ decision to kneel.
‘We recognize our players’ influence. We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent. All voices need to be heard. That’s democracy in its highest form,’ he said.
The anthem singer at the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons game ended his performance of the Star Spangled Banner by kneeling and raising his fist in the air.
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had earlier said his team would not be present on the field for the anthem prior to Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.
‘We’re not going to play politics. We’re football players, we’re football coaches,’ he told CBS Sports’ Jamie Erdahl. ‘We’re not participating in the anthem today – not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but to remove ourselves from the circumstance.
‘People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something, he shouldn’t be separated from his teammate who chooses not to.’
A handfull of Miami Dolphins players were spotted wearing t-shirts that read ‘#IMWITHKAP’ during pregame warm-ups in support of free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Trump’s comments in a Friday night speech and a series of Saturday tweets drew sharp responses from some of the nation’s top athletes, with LeBron James calling the president a ‘bum.’
Trump started by announcing that Curry, the immensely popular two-time MVP for the Golden State Warriors, would not be welcome at the White House for the commemorative visit traditionally made by championship teams after Curry indicated he didn’t want to come.
Later, Trump reiterated what he said at a rally in Alabama the previous night – that NFL players who kneel for the national anthem should be fired. Curry has since broken his silence, saying it was amazing how NBA players had rallied around each other.
‘That’s what this is about,’ Curry told the Washington Post. ‘I commend and applaud everyone that’s spoken up. That’s what we are supposed to do. It’s really important.’