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The NFL Responds to Donald Trump

Trump attacked the NFL and its players during a rally Friday, insinuating that anyone who kneels during the national anthem is a “son of a bitch.” Many of the NFL’s most prominent figures have since stood up to the president.

Dallas Cowboys v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

President Donald Trump set off a flurry of criticism in the sports world with his comments at a rally for Senator Luther Strange on Friday. While speaking to a crowd in Huntsville, Alabama, Trump insinuated that any football player who kneels during the national anthem is a “son of a bitch” who should be “fired.” He also suggested that an NFL owner would become “the most popular person in this country” for taking action against such a player, criticized penalties designed to protect player health, and took jabs at the league’s television ratings.

On Saturday, in addition to going after Steph Curry, Trump doubled down on his comments. Then, on Sunday afternoon, he again reiterated his thoughts, saying that “owners should do something about” their protesting players, while adding, “This has nothing to do with race.” Over the weekend, dozens of NFL players, the NFLPA, team owners, and others have promptly responded, offering criticism, hinting at further protests, and voicing outrage in light of the president’s remarks.

Below is a running list of various NFL figures standing up to Trump. This post will be regularly updated over the course of the weekend as news breaks.

The Cowboys and Cardinals Wrap Up a Weekend of Protests

Zach Kram: Before Monday night’s matchup between the Cowboys and Cardinals in Arizona, the two teams continued the weekend’s displays. According to a sideline report, both franchises had discussed making a joint expression of unity, but those talks fell through.

Standing as a group, the Cardinals linked arms in an end zone, while the Cowboys, also with arms linked together, collectively kneeled on the field before the anthem began, then stood while Jordin Sparks sang. Owner Jerry Jones, coach Jason Garrett, and executive vice presidents Stephen and Charlotte Jones were among that group of Cowboys. According to ESPN’s Michele Steele, Jerry Jones is the only remaining NFL owner not to release an official statement about Trump’s remarks.

Players and Coaches Continue to Comment on Protests

Riley McAtee: Sunday night, Redskins cornerback Josh Norman spoke for more than 20 minutes about his decision to protest during the national anthem, at one point waving off a team official so that he could continue speaking. Norman’s said that his decision was based solely in his opposition to President Trump.

“It’s not about the flag,” Norman said. “It’s not. It’s not about anything like that. It’s not about black and white. It’s about what we are being faced with right now, and that’s being teared down, from in the White House, behind the podium, behind the presidency of the United States of America.”

On Monday, NFL players and coaches continued to expound on Sunday’s widespread protests. Niners safety Eric Reid, who often kneeled along with teammate Colin Kaepernick during the national anthem last season, penned an op-ed in The New York Times explaining why he took action and how he and Kaepernick came to the decision to kneel.

“We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture,” Reid wrote. “I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”

He also explained the original reason for his protest:

“[Kaepernick and I] spoke at length about many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system.”

“I refuse to be one of those people who watches injustices yet does nothing,” Reid concluded.

On Monday, Alejandro Villanueva, the Pittsburgh offensive lineman and military veteran who stood outside the tunnel during the national anthem on Sunday, clarified why he was the only Steeler to appear before the game kicked off, saying it was an accident.

“Unfortunately, I threw [my teammates] under the bus, unintentionally,” he said.

Villanueva had asked to join the team’s captains just outside the tunnel during the anthem. But due to what he called “chaos” in the tunnel, the captains didn’t make it and Villanueva wound up alone. He then put his hand over his heart while the song played.

Meanwhile, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he regretted the way his team, which did not come out of the tunnel until after the national anthem ended, handled the protest.

“I was unable to sleep last night,” he wrote in a statement on his website. “The idea was to be unified as a team when so much attention is paid to things dividing our country, but I wish we approached it differently. … I personally don’t believe the Anthem is ever the time to make any type of protest.”

Also on Monday, Broncos coach Vance Joseph called Trump’s comments “upsetting” before saying he believed in standing for the anthem. “Politics and football don’t mix, in my opinion,” Joseph said.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who during the 2016 campaign wrote a letter to Trump praising his leadership, supported his players, though his statement did not mention protests, the president, or the national anthem specifically.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson supported his team Monday, saying in a statement that “politicizing the game is damaging.” Like Belichick, he also did not mention protests or the anthem.

With Richardson’s statement, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is the only NFL owner to not comment on the protests, according to ESPN’s Michele Steele. Jones has previously said he preferred that players stand during the anthem, telling a Dallas-area radio show in August that he feels “so strongly that the act of recognizing the flag is a salute to our country and all of the people that have sacrificed so that we can have the liberties we have.”

Jones’s Cowboys play the Cardinals tonight on Monday Night Football.

After the Afternoon Games, NFL Players Continue to Explain Their Actions

McAtee: After the three afternoon games ended, players who protested before or during those contests explained why they took action.

Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith called Trump’s comments alarming. “This is the same guy who couldn't condemn violent neo-Nazis but he's condemning guys that are taking a knee during the national anthem,” Smith said, referring to the president’s assertion that there were “very fine people on both sides” after protests by neo-Nazis and other right-wing groups erupted into violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month.

Cincy receiver A.J. Green explained why the Bengals chose to stand, with arms locked together, during the anthem:

Packers tight end Lance Kendricks, whose wife is Puerto Rican, asked for the president to focus on Puerto Rico, which is without power after Hurricane Maria.

Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett responded to Trump’s “son of a bitch” comment by saying, “My mom is a beautiful lady,” during the team’s postgame press conference.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers expressed his team’s emphasis on “love” and “unity.”

Raiders and Redskins Players Protest Before Sunday Night Football

McAtee: Before the day’s final game, nearly the entire Raiders team sat, arms interlinked, during the playing of the national anthem. Oakland had initially planned to remain in the locker room for the anthem—following the leads of Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Tennessee—but the schedule before a primetime game, which is slightly condensed, meant it wasn’t possible. As Michele Tafoya reported on the broadcast, missing the coin toss would have cost the Raiders a 15-yard penalty and they would have forfeited their ability to start with the football for both halves.

On the opposite sideline, the Redskins mostly stood for the anthem, with a few players kneeling. The team had its arms interlocked, including owner Dan Snyder, who stood with the players.

As the broadcast began, NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth called on the president to apologize for his comments and invite some of the Washington players to the White House.

Players Address Protests After the Early Round of Games

Megan Schuster: After the first slate of Sunday games ended, players who protested during the national anthem (and during the game) explained their decisions.

Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers remained in the locker room for the anthem, and after the game said, “We know what went on this week with the comments that were made by the president, and I felt like he attacked our brothers.”

Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy said President Donald Trump was “acting like a jerk,” and that was why he stretched through the national anthem.

Von Miller, Broncos linebacker and the MVP of Super Bowl 50, kneeled for the anthem because he felt the president’s comments were “an assault on our most cherished right: freedom of speech.”

Dolphins safety Michael Thomas became emotional after Miami’s game while talking about Trump’s comments.

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who stood with his fist raised during the anthem on Sunday, said that Trump’s comments were “no different from any troll who’s been coming after me on social media for the past year.”

And after scoring his first touchdown of the day against the Eagles, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dropped down onto his hands and knees in the end zone and mimicked the action of a dog relieving itself. When he was asked after the game why he did that, Beckham responded, “I don’t know. I’m in the end zone. I’m a dog. So I acted like a dog.” And after his second touchdown of the day, Beckham stood in the end zone while raising his right fist. When asked if the pose was related to the leaguewide protests, Beckham said, “Did it look like it? Then it might have meant something.”

Members of the Chiefs and Chargers Sit and Kneel During the National Anthem

Schuster: Before the Chiefs-Chargers game kicked off in Los Angeles, Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce took a knee during the national anthem, as did linebacker Justin Houston.

Other members of the Chiefs decided to sit on the bench during the anthem.

On the other sideline, five Chargers defensive linemen sat as well: Chris McCain, Darius Philon, Tenny Palepoi, Damion Square and Brandon Mebane.

Packers and Bengals Players Lock Arms With Their Teammates for the National Anthem

Schuster: After powerful statements from Aaron Rodgers, Martellus Bennett, Davante Adams, and team president Mark Murphy, the Packers took the field on Sunday afternoon in Green Bay for the national anthem. Most players linked arms and stood together, while three players — Bennett, tight end Lance Kendricks, and cornerback Kevin King — sat on the bench.

Their opponents, the Cincinnati Bengals, also stood together with their arms locked for the anthem.

Anthem Performers Kneel in Nashville

Danny Heifetz: Neither the Titans nor Seahawks were on the sideline for the national anthem before their game in Nashville on Sunday, and the song was sung on a mostly empty field. At the end of the performance, both performers took a knee.

Both teams emerged after the anthem concluded.

Seahawks and Titans Plan to Stay in Their Locker Rooms During the National Anthem

Heifetz: The Seahawks and Titans will stay in their locker rooms during the national anthem ahead of their Sunday-afternoon game, according to the MMQB’s Albert Breer. Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who alleged he was assaulted and threatened with a gun by Las Vegas police in August, was one of the four players who sent commissioner Roger Goodell a memo last month asking for the league’s support in player activism. Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll have already voiced their support for their players.

Update: Before kickoff, the Seahawks released a statement saying they would not be participating in the national anthem. The decision was made as a team, according to the statement, because “we will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country.”

The Titans released a statement later saying they also decided to stay in the locker room during the anthem.

Pittsburgh Steelers Remain in Locker Room During the National Anthem in Chicago

Riley McAtee: As NFL players across the country protested during the national anthem, the Steelers gave one of the most visible showings by not showing up at all.

Head coach Mike Tomlin stood on the sideline without any of his players, a plan the coach had announced several hours before the game. Offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a military veteran who served three tours in Afghanistan, was the only Steelers player to emerge during the anthem, standing at the end of the tunnel with his hand over his heart. The rest of the team remained in the locker room. When they emerged, there were greeted with “heavy boos” from the Chicago crowd—but also plenty Terrible Towel–waving from visiting Pittsburgh fans.

Rico LaVelle Kneels and Raises His Fist After Singing National Anthem in Detroit

Kram: At the Lions-Falcons game in Detroit on Sunday, around 10 players kneeled during the national anthem. Lions majority owner Martha Ford was also on the field, locking arms with Detroit coach Jim Caldwell and defensive back Glover Quin. And at the conclusion of the national anthem, singer Rico LaVelle took a knee as he sang the final word—“brave”—and raised his right fist in the air.

Teams Across the League Protest Before the Afternoon Games

Heifetz: Players around the league criticized the president’s remarks in several different ways during the national anthem before Sunday’s early slate of games. Many teams linked arms in unison, some with their coaches and owners. That group includes the Falcons, Vikings, Eagles, Patriots, Texans, and Colts, among others:

Many players chose to kneel:

A collection of Saints players sat throughout the anthem:

Some, including Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks, stood at a remove; others, such as Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, emerged from their locker rooms after the anthem finished playing:

Members of the Miami Dolphins Wear #IMWITHKAP Shirts During Warmups

Heifetz: Some Miami Dolphins players wore black-and-white shirts emblazoned with the phrase #IMWITHKAP before their game against the New York Jets on Sunday. Dolphins receiver and team captain Kenny Stills posted the following tweet:

Running back Jay Ajayi and offensive tackles Laremy Tunsil and Ja'Wuan James also wore the shirt during pregame warmups.

Josh Norman Responds on Fox’s Pregame Show

Ben Glicksman: Washington cornerback Josh Norman was asked about Trump’s remarks during Fox’s NFL pregame show on Sunday. He said: “I feel like what we’re doing is not about the flag, you know. It’s not about the protesting or demonstration of the flag. I think we love the flag and the country that we’re in. It’s about the person [Trump] that’s behind the podium.”

Mike Tomlin Says the Steelers Will Not Be on the Field For the Anthem

Glicksman: Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin told CBS’s Jamie Erdahl that his entire team will stay off the field for the playing of the national anthem before a Week 3 game against the Bears. Tomlin, clad in all black, said, “We’re not participating in the anthem today. Not to be disrespectful to the anthem, to remove ourselves from this circumstance. People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t be forced to choose sides.”

The Ravens and Jaguars Lock Arms and Kneel During the National Anthem in London

Glicksman: The Ravens and Jaguars were the first teams to take the field on Sunday of Week 3, and they presented a unified response to Trump’s comments by linking arms during the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in London. Large groups of players lining both the Baltimore and Jacksonville sidelines kneeled in a show of solidarity:

Owners, coaches, and former stars demonstrated their support for players’ right to peacefully protest as well. Ray Lewis took a knee with the Ravens, while Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh and Jaguars owner Shad Khan (who was among the NFL owners who donated to Trump upon his inauguration) linked arms with their players:

The kneeling players all stood when the British national anthem, “God Save the Queen,” was performed in Wembley Stadium directly afterward.

Players Weigh In on Social Media

Riley McAtee: Bills running back LeSean McCoy was one of the first to respond Saturday, calling Trump an “asshole” on Twitter:

Packers tight end Martellus Bennett chimed in with a series of tweets, saying that he is “ok with being fired for what I believe in”:

Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin said that Trump’s comments showed the President’s “dehumanized nature”:

Raiders punter Marquette King, whose team is in Washington, D.C., for a Week 3 matchup with the Redskins, posted the following photo on Instagram:


A post shared by Marquette King (@marquetteking) on

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers posted to Instagram as well:

#unity #brotherhood #family #dedication #love #

A post shared by Aaron Rodgers (@aaronrodgers12) on

Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman tweeted that “If you do not Condemn this divisive Rhetoric you are Condoning it,” and Dolphins safety Michael Thomas urged his Twitter followers to “continue to use your voices and your platforms for racial equality and to stop injustices in our communities.” Tons of other NFL players made comments critical of Trump or supportive of player protests, too: Steelers receiver Justin Hunter, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, Lions tight end Eric Ebron, Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, Packers receiver Davante Adams, Dolphins guard Jermon Bushrod, Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, Titans receiver Rishard Matthews, Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson, Broncos guard Max Garcia, Rams linebacker Connor Barwin, Bengals safety George Iloka, Vikings running back Bishop Sankey, Redskins linebacker Zach Brown, Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty, Chiefs receiver Chris Conley, Buccaneers defensive tackle Chris Baker, Lions linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Buccaneers safety T.J. Ward, and Eagles receiver Torrey Smith, among others.

Former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue Calls Trump’s Comments “Insulting and Disgraceful”

Glicksman: Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue attended the Panthers-Saints game as a guest of Carolina owner Jerry Richardson on Sunday. He took aim at the president’s remarks, saying, “For me, to single out any particular group of players and call them SOBs, to me, that is insulting and disgraceful”:

The NFLPA Defends Players’ Right to Protest

McAtee: NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, who was unanimously reelected to his position Tuesday, stated that “we no longer can afford to stick to sports” and that “no man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights”:

NFLPA president Eric Winston stated that “divisiveness breeds divisiveness”:

NFL Owners and Coaches Make Statements

McAtee: Most team owners have been tight-lipped with regard to player protests over the last year. Some, like Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, have made it clear they believe players should stand for the national anthem. On Saturday, several owners came out in support of players’ right to protest. San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York released a statement asserting his team’s support for players:

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said that protesting players are “smart young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone”:

Packers president Mark Murphy called the comments “unfortunate”:

Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch said that Trump’s remarks were “inappropriate, offensive and divisive”:

Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft, who has been publicly linked to the president in the past and recently gave Trump a Super Bowl ring with his name engraved on it, said that he supports players’ rights to “peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful”:

Among the other executives to issue statements: Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula, Seahawks president Peter McLoughlin, Colts owner Jim Irsay, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford, Jaguars owner Shad Khan, Bears chairman George McCaskey, Rams owner Stan Kroenke, Saints owner Tom Benson, Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt, and Texans owner Bob McNair. Then there is Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who said that “we can no longer remain silent.”

Roger Goodell Gives an Official Statement

McAtee: Even commissioner Goodell responded, calling the president’s comments “divisive”:

And though Goodell’s statement didn’t specifically mention Trump, the national anthem, or the issues of racial justice for which a group of NFL players asked for league support last month, that didn’t stop Trump from responding to it, too.