Less than a day after President Donald Trump said that NFL owners should fire athletes who protest during the national anthem, the NFL and players' union, the NFLPA, both released statements defending the players.
At a campaign rally for an Alabama senate candidate on Friday night, Trump said that fans should walk out of NFL stadiums when they see players taking a knee during the anthem and the owners should take action.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a (expletive) off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!'” Trump said.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement on Saturday morning disagreeing with the comments made by the president, but also focused on the league creating unity through responses to natural disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
"The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. 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," Goodell said in the statement.
DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFLPA, was more direct in supporting players' constitutional rights.
"Whether or not Roger and the owners will speak for themselves about their views on player rights and their commitment to player safety remains to be seen. This union, however, will never back down when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of our players as citizens as will as their safety as men who compete in a game that exposes them to great risks," Smith's statement read.
Trump's comments evidently are in response to protests that started last year from former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sitting and taking a knee during the anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice. While Kaepernick is not currently with a team, numerous players have continued sitting, kneeling and protesting the anthem in various ways.