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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

NFL owners hit back at Donald Trump in row over protesting players

CEOs of NFL teams including the New York Giants have criticised the American president for his comments.

NFL protests against police brutality began in 2016 after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (centre) sat during the anthem. Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports
NFL protests against police brutality began in 2016 after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (centre) sat during the anthem. Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

President Donald Trump appears to have created a new group of unlikely enemies, antagonising a constituency of people whom one would have assumed were locked-down Republican supporters: American football club owners and administrators of the professional association that governs the sport.

During a political rally in Alabama on Friday night for a Republican standing for a special senate election, President Trump waded into a row that has been convulsing the sport for the last year, namely the practice first initiated by Colin Kaepernick, then of the San Francisco 49ers, for kneeling during the national anthem before games to protest the treatment of people of colour in America.

He told the rally “When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they are playing our great national anthem – the only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop."

The president also said that the owners of National Football League (NFL) teams should fire players if they refuse to stand during the national anthem.

He also accused NFL referees of “ruining the game” by penalising players who “hit too hard.”

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Read more:

Do not expect to see Colin Kaepernick back with an NFL team soon

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“Today, if you hit too hard … 15 yards, throw him out of the game. They are ruining the game, right?”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responded to the president on Saturday, saying Trump’s “divisive comments” show “an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL.”

“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we've experienced over the last month.”

Goodell continued: “Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”

Many NFL players have fired back at Trump, with one Washington Redskins player telling him to “stay in your place” following his comments.

The head of the NFL Players Association, the union representing professional football players, also hit back at Trump, vowing the union “will never back down” from protecting players’s right to protest.

Three NFL team owners, including Stephen Ross of the Miami Dolphins, have already hit back at the president.

Ross said: “Our country needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness. We need to seek to understand each other and have civil discourse instead of condemnation and soundbites. I know our players who kneeled for the anthem and these are smart young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone.

“We can all benefit from learning, listening and respecting each other. Sport is a common denominator in our world. We all have the responsibility to use this platform to promote understanding, respect and equality.”

New York Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch called Mr Trump’s criticisms “inappropriate” and “divisive.”

“Comments like we heard last night from the president are inappropriate, offensive and divisive. We are proud of our players, the vast majority of whom use their NFL platform to make a positive difference in our society,” a joint statement said.

Jed York, the chief executive of the San Francisco 49ers, the team Kaepernick played for when he kneeled, said: “The callous and offensive comments made by the president are contradictory to what this great country stands for.

"Our players have exercised their rights as United States citizens in order to spark conversation and action to address social injustice.”