President Trump took a veiled jab at former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during a speech Friday and said the owners of National Football League teams should fire athletes for kneeling during the national anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a [expletive] off the field right now. Out, you’re fired!’” Mr. Trump said during an event in Huntsville, Alabama.
“You know some owner’s going to do that,” Mr. Trump added. “He’s going to say, ‘That guy who disrespects our flag, he’s fired!’”
Roger Goodell, the NFL’s commissioner, issued a statement Saturday responding to the president that said his “divisive comments” demonstrate a lack of respect for the sport, the league and its athletes, “and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”
The president didn’t mention Mr. Kaepernick by name, though his comments occurred on the heels of the quarterback’s controversial decision to kneel during the “Star Spangled Banner” last season as a means of protesting police brutality. Mr. Kaepernick, 29, was widely criticized for refusing to stand while the anthem played and remains a free agent after parting ways with the 49ers in March.
Other athletes have continued the protests in the quarterback’s absence, however, and on Saturday the president took aim at a professional basketball player who has been both a vocal supporter of Mr. Kaepernick and a critic of the Trump administration: Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry.
Mr. Trump invited the Warriors to the White House after the team won the NBA championship in June, but rescinded Mr. Curry’s invitation after the athlete said this week that he didn’t plan to attend.
“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team,” Mr. Trump tweeted Saturday. “Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”
Neither Mr. Kaepernick nor Mr. Curry, also 29, publicly reacted immediately to the president’s comments this weekend.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, reiterated his opinion through his personal Twitter account Saturday afternoon.
“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” Mr. Trump tweeted.