Ryan: NFL players shouldn't protest during anthem

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP rep: Virginia defeat 'a referendum' on Trump administration After Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem Pence: Praying 'takes nothing away' from trying to figure out causes behind mass shooting MORE (R-Wis.) said Tuesday that NFL players who kneel or sit during the national anthem are protected by the First Amendment. But that doesn't mean he agrees with their actions.

“People are clearly within their rights to express themselves as they see fit,” said Ryan, a lifelong Green Bay Packers fan who likes to remind people he is one of 360,000 shareholders of the NFL's only publicly held team.

“My own view, though, is we shouldn’t do it on the anthem,” he continued. “Our national anthem, our flag and the people who defend it and represent it — that should be celebrated everywhere and always.”

The national anthem issue flared up in recent days after President Trump attacked former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police treatment of African-Americans, a protest he began in 2016.

"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. He is fired,' " Trump said Friday night at a campaign rally for Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Cruz’s Democratic challenger fundraises off support of Roy Moore Moore digs in amid mounting GOP criticism MORE (R) in Alabama.

Trump’s remarks were condemned around the NFL over the weekend as players, as well as some coaches and owners, took a knee or locked arms during the singing of the anthem. Some, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, did not take the field until the song was done.

Emerging from a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said there was no discussion of the NFL spat but joked that “everyone stood for the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said he disagreed with the players taking a knee but suggested that the controversy had been a minor one until Trump drew attention to it. 

“I also don’t think we should aggravate the problem. It was a problem that was a lot less serious before we had the outbreaks over the weekend,” Cole said. “I think from a public standpoint, your duty is to unify and uplift and inspire, and that’s what we ought to be focused on going forward.

“There were a lot fewer people doing it before he spoke than after.”

Niv Ellis contributed.