The owners of the Baltimore Ravens, the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and other teams on Sunday joined a chorus of NFL executives criticizing President Donald Trump’s suggestion that they fire players who kneel for the national anthem.
The statements, from Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, contrasted a morning tweet from Trump and further escalated the political drama of the league’s game day, which was expected to be one of the most-watched for non-sporting reasons in years.
Bisciotti said he “100 percent” supports his players’ decision to kneel during the national anthem. At least seven of them did, joined by more than a dozen Jacksonville Jaguars, before the teams played at Wembley Stadium in London.
Kraft, who has been a strong backer of the president, expressed “deep disappointment” with Trump and said politicians could learn much from the unifying spirit of a competitive, team-oriented enterprise like football.
“Our players are intelligent, thoughtful, and care deeply about our community, and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful,” Kraft said in a statement.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the kneeling movement last year when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, refusing to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest the treatment of black people by police. Kaepernick became a free agent and has not been signed by a new team for this season.
Without identifying Kaepernick, Trump aimed a Friday talk at a Huntsville, Alabama, rally at those players who have knelt for the anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,’” he said to loud applause.
Again in a Sunday morning tweet, Trump urged his supporters to take action: “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!”
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin followed up Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” defending Trump, saying the NFL has many rules governing what players can and cannot do.
“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,” Mnuchin said. “They can do free speech on their own time.”
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York, contributed to this report.