NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fired back at President Trump on Saturday for encouraging league owners to remove players who take a knee during the national anthem, 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,” Goodell said in a statement. “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.”
“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.”
The NFL chief's comments came the morning after Trump told a crowd at a rally for Alabama Senate candidate Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangePress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Pandemic proves importance of pharmaceutical innovation The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings MORE (R) that NFL players will stop kneeling if fans left games.
"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," Trump said. "I guarantee things will stop."
Trump also said NFL owners should fire players if they refuse to stand during the national anthem.
"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.
The comments came during a broader critique of the league's actions, during which he also accused NFL referees of "ruining the game" by penalizing players who "hit too hard."
“Today, if you hit too hard … 15 yards, throw him out of the game,” Trump said. “They are ruining the game, right?”
Multiple 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’ right to protest.
Trump has previously attacked NFL player Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem to protests the treatment of people of color in America, suggesting Kaepernick was still a free agent because he wouldn’t stand for the anthem.