NFL players on Sunday became engulfed in the controversy surrounding the national anthem, following President Donald Trump’s comments at a campaign rally in Alabama on Friday which continued via Twitter throughout the weekend.
The Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans opted not to take the field during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner,” while all but one member of the Pittsburgh Steelers stayed in the locker room prior to their respective games on Sunday. Earlier in the day during a matchup between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens in London, players kneeled during the American anthem, then stood during “God Save the Queen,” Britain’s national anthem.
“I do not think the place to express yourself in society is as we recognize the American flag,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told FOX Business’ Cheryl Casone last week at a gala celebrating the 100-year anniversary of Forbes magazine, prior to Trump's comments. “So that’s not the place to do anything other than honor the flag and everybody that’s given up a little bit for it."
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who also co-founded Home Depot (NYSE:HD), had a slightly different take, telling Casone players should still have the right to demonstrate their beliefs.
“I think we have to celebrate their right to express themselves, as every American does,” Blank told Casone at the event.
Sunday’s protests have been the largest so far this season, still in its infancy, and come in the wake of President Trump’s tweets and comments regarding the matter. Trump went as far as to suggest team owners fire players who kneel during the national anthem.
“Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say 'get that son of a b ---- off the field right now? Out! He's fired! He's fired!'" Trump said on Friday. He continued to hammer the issue throughout the weekend.
“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!” he tweeted.
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
...NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their National Anthem or their Country. NFL should change policy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
The protests began last season when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem to protest injustices against the African-American community. Kaepernick remains without a team so far this season after opting out of his contract with the team.