Former CIA director and retired four-star general Michael Hayden has blasted President Donald Trump's call for NFL athletes who kneel during the national anthem to be fired. Hayden disclosed that while he had reservations about former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to protest the anthem, he would side with the NFL player over Trump.
On Sept. 26, Hayden asserted in an op-ed that Trump had crossed a line when he called for the firings of athletes who protested police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.
"Everything seemed to be within the tolerances of normal American political discourse and, certainly, American free speech ... Until last Friday," Hayden wrote in The Hill.
On Sept. 22, Trump called for NFL team owners to fire players who knelt during the national anthem.
"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say: 'Get that son of a b***h off the field right now. Out! He's fired! He's fired!'" Trump said during a rally in Alabama, according to HuffPost.
Trump repeatedly called for boycotts against the the NFL on social media. Hayden asserted in his editorial that the president was stoking division "for political advantage."
On Sept. 24, several NFL teams remained in their locker rooms during the national anthem in response to the president's comments.
Hayden, whose career has been defined by conservative views on national security, noted that he was an avid fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose team members were among the athletes who protested against Trump's remarks.
"Pittsburgh is a patriotic town," Hayden continued. "There was a lot of anger about the Steelers not showing up. But I believe that everyone on the Steelers did the right thing. They were dealt a bad hand and played it as best they could. Or, more accurately, they tried not to play."
The former CIA director asserted that Kaepernick had played a role in politicizing U.S. sports by protesting the national anthem. In August 2016, Kaepernick announced that he would not stand during the anthem in hopes of drawing attention to police brutality.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color ... There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder," Kaepernick told NFL Media.
"His comments on America were a bit more dystopian than I thought was warranted ... Still, this is a big country with a big heart and the issues he raised were both real and sincerely held," Hayden wrote of Kaepernick.
The retired general concluded that he believed Trump's comments towards NFL players was more offensive to American values than Kaepernick's protest.
"As a 39-year military veteran, I think I know something about the flag, the anthem, patriotism, and I think I know why we fight," Hayden wrote. "It's not to allow the president to divide us by wrapping himself in the national banner. I never imagined myself saying this before Friday, but if now forced to choose in this dispute, put me down with Kaepernick."