The National Football League and other sports leagues went on the offense against President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE on Sunday after a weekend of the president attacking sports players over what he said is a lack of respect for the country.
By Sunday, Trump was subject to high-profile protests from coaches and players of professional football, basketball, hockey and baseball.
The feud spread overseas — with players taking a knee during the national anthem in London — and the league announced it will once again air a TV advertisement promoting franchise unity on Sunday in the wake of the president's attacks.
More players than usual knelt during the national anthem on Sunday during the first game following Trump's suggestion that players who kneel, rather than stand, for the anthem should be fired. Players in the past have knelt during the anthem to protest racial injustice as they see it in the U.S.
Players for the Baltimore Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars, including the owners, put on a show of unity Sunday, kneeling and linking arms during the national anthem before a game in London.
Most of the Pittsburgh Steelers then stayed in their locker room as the national anthem played before their game in Chicago on Sunday afternoon.
The Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans stayed in their locker rooms during the national anthem sung prior to their game.
Other teams that saw players kneel during Sunday's games include the Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms," the Seahawks said in a statement released prior to the game.
"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,'" Trump said Friday, first stirring the controversy. " 'He is fired.'"
Players and the league rose up against Trump on Saturday, with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calling his words "divisive."
“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," he said in a statement.
Trump also took on NBA star Stephen Curry on Saturday morning, saying he was disinvited to visit the White House and suggesting the Golden State Warriors player didn't respect the honor of being invited.
As a result, Trump also picked a fight with the NBA, earning criticism from Curry, LeBron James and the head of the NBA Players Association, Chris Paul.
Trump's attacks are "beneath" his office, Curry said Saturday. "It's not what leaders do."
However, the president's attacks continued on Twitter on Sunday morning.
If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
...NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Trump's criticism also pits him against former donors, including Shad Khan, the billionaire owner of the Jaguars, who donated $1 million to President Trump’s inauguration.
Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan: pic.twitter.com/aMO8cHDWYb— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 24, 2017
Another key Trump ally, former Buffalo Bills and New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, said he was "pissed off" by the president's remarks.
“I’m pissed off, I’ll be honest with you,” Ryan said on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown.” “I supported Donald Trump. When he asked me to introduce him at a rally in Buffalo, I did that. But I’m reading these comments and it’s appalling to me, and I’m sure it’s appalling to any citizen in our country.”
CNN reported on Sunday that the league will air a televised advertisement promoting franchise unity on Sunday in wake of the president's attacks.
Inside these lines, we can bring out the best in each other and live united. pic.twitter.com/nQpUrKFL4T— NFL (@NFL) September 24, 2017
Major League Baseball also got involved when Bruce Maxwell, catcher for the Oakland Athletics, took a knee during during the national anthem at a Saturday game.
And the National Hockey League's Pittsburgh Penguins nodded to the controversy on Sunday when accepting an invitation to visit the White House this year.
"Any agreement or disagreement with a president's politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways," the team said in a statement. "However, we very much respect the rights of other individuals and groups to express themselves as they see fit."
The Trump administration is playing defense.
"I think what the president is saying is that the owners should have a rule that players should have to stand in respect for the national anthem," Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks Former Treasury secretaries tried to resolve debt limit impasse in talks with McConnell, Yellen: report Menendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS MORE told ABC's Martha Raddatz on "This Week."
"This isn't about Democrats, it's not about Republicans, it's not about race, it's not about free speech. They can do free speech on their own time. That this is about respect for the military and first responders in the country," he continued.
Some view the president's comments as not only part of a free speech debate, but also as part of a broader racial debate, due to the fact that the players Trump has specifically targeted are African-American.
However, White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said Sunday that Trump does not view NFL players kneeling during the national anthem “through a racial lens.”
“I don’t think he’s reopening racial wounds," Short told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday," adding "The president is not looking at this through a racial lens."