White House press secretary Sarah Sanders suggested Monday that if NFL players who kneel during the national anthem at games are doing so because of police brutality, they should protest the officers instead of the song.
“I think if the debate is really for them about police brutality, they should probably protest the officers on the field that are protecting them instead of the American flag,” she said.
Later, Sanders was asked to clarify whether she was encouraging players to protest the police. She said she was only trying to argue that the flag should not be the target of the players’ silent protests.
“That’s not what I’m saying,” Sanders said. “I was kind of pointing out the hypocrisy of the fact that if the goal is, and the message is, that of police brutality — which they’ve stated — then that doesn’t seem very appropriate to protest the American flag.”
For days, the president has embraced and inflamed the controversy over professional athletes’ demonstrations. Colin Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, began kneeling during the playing of the national anthem in 2016 to draw attention to police brutality and racial injustice. Other players followed suit.
At a rally Friday, Trump mused, “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.’”
Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, Trump continued tweeting about the issue, with multiple statements denouncing “certain players” who protest. He also took a swipe at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and publicly withdrew an invitation to Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry. The point guard had already said he wouldn’t go, and his team, the reigning NBA champions, said they would similarly skip the White House after Trump’s tweet.
Meanwhile, NFL games across the country and in London Sunday saw more demonstrations than ever before. Some teams skipped the playing of the national anthem, electing instead to stay in the locker room and out of sight. Other players knelt or locked arms, sometimes with the team owners.
Though the players say they are protesting racial injustice, Trump tweeted Monday that “issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race.”
The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 25, 2017
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