O'Reilly slams NFL protests: 'I don't believe those players know what they're doing'

Former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly returned to his network of 21 years last night for a lengthy interview with new 9 p.m. host Sean Hannity that saw O'Reilly slam NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem. 

The interview was noteworthy in part because Hannity and O'Reilly were almost never seen on set together during their two decades-plus at Fox.

It also marked O'Reilly's first appearance since being ousted from the network in April following allegations of sexual harassment. He has maintained his innocence, telling NBC's Matt Lauer last week that the allegations are part of an orchestrated "political and financial hit job."

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The hot topic in cable news for days has been NFL players' protests before games and President Trump's repeated opposition to those kneeling during the national anthem. O'Reilly singled out players from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens for kneeling before a game in London on Sunday. 

“When the Jaguars and Ravens were over in London and they kneeled down on a foreign soil and then they stood up for the British national anthem, I was angry and sad because I don't believe those players know what they are doing,” O’Reilly said 

“About 3,000 miles east of you there are American military people in Kandahar, Afghanistan, whose entertainment revolves around the Armed Forces Network that broadcasts football games. I was over there in '07," the former "Factor" host continued. 

"I watched football games with them. Can you imagine putting your life on the line in Afghanistan and having just the leisure time and wanting to the watch a football game and seeing your players, your American players, disrespect the country and the flag on foreign soil. Can you imagine how painful that was?”

O'Reilly appeared in Hannity's New York studio to promote his new book, "Killing England," which tackles events leading up to and through the Revolutionary War. 

O'Reilly's appearance has been met with sharp criticism from the liberal watchdog Media Matters, who called on advertisers of Hannity's show to boycott as a result of the network allowing O'Reilly to appear. 

"The budding collaboration between Hannity and O’Reilly — as well as Fox News’ full throated embrace of O’Reilly’s return to Fox News tonight — confirms that advertisers are going to have to act again," said Media Matters President Angelo Carusone. "If they don’t, then they are aligning their brands with and supporting sexual harassment.

"Companies that removed ads from O’Reilly’s show but currently sponsor Hannity need to be the first to take action and cease sponsoring Hannity immediately. And I actually think some responsible companies will remove ads from Fox News as a whole over this."

More than 50 advertisers boycotted O'Reilly's program in April. 

No advertisers appear to have pulled their ads from Hannity's program following the Media Matters call to do so on Tuesday, however.  

O'Reilly has appeared on several television and radio programs on his book tour, including NBC's "Today" and Hannity's national radio program last week.  

He is tentatively scheduled to appear on CNN with host Michael Smerconish, although a firm date and time has not been set.