The New England Patriots on Sunday joined a growing chorus of NFL teams in denouncing President Donald Trump’s suggestion that owners fire players who kneel during the national anthem and encouraging fans to walk out of games in protest.
“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday. I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities,” Patriots CEO Robert Kraft said in a statement Sunday.
“There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal,” Kraft said.
Trump took aim at the NFL during a Friday rally in Alabama, where he was campaigning for Sen. Luther Strange who faces a tight special election contest Tuesday, saying owners should fire players who kneel during the national 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,” Trump said to loud applause, according to the Associated Press.
The president also bemoaned what he describes as a decline in violence in the sport.
“They’re ruining the game,” he said.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the trend last year when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, began refusing to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest of the treatment of African-Americans by police. Several other athletes also have refused to stand during the anthem.
“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.
The National Football League and its players’ union on Saturday angrily denounced Trump’s remarks, according to the Associated Press.
“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
The NFL Players Association said in a statement that “no man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights. No worker nor any athlete, professional or not, should be forced to become less than human when it comes to protecting their basic health and safety.”
“The line that marks the balance between the rights of every citizen in our great country gets crossed when someone is told to just ‘shut up and play,’” the players’ union said.