President Donald Trump has asserted that NFL team owners are afraid to reprimand football players who kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans. The president has repeatedly called for players who kneel to be fired.
On Sept. 28, Trump asserted that NFL team owners were being intimidated by their players during an interview on Fox News' "Fox & Friends."
"I have so many friends that are owners," Trump said. "And they're in a box. I mean, I've spoken to a couple of them. They say, 'We are in a situation where we have to do something.' I think they're afraid of their players, you want to know the truth, and I think it's disgraceful."
The president added that he believed NFL team owners have "got to be tough and they've got to be smart ... The NFL cannot disrespect our country. They cannot disrespect our flag or our national anthem. And they can't have people sitting down or kneeling down during our national anthem."
The NFL's vice president of communications, Joe Lockhart, responded to Trump's comments during a conference call.
"There have been statements made in the last 12 hours or so about the league and about the owners, and I will say that, very simply, they're not accurate," Lockhart said, reports USA Today. "They're not factual."
Lockhart added that NFL team owners felt "that the issues are being obscured and distorted by people with political agendas, and I think they made it clear that they made it clear that they support our players."
In August 2016, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began to sit during the national anthem that preceded NFL games to protest police brutality against African-Americans. Kaepernick told NFL Media, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."
On Sept. 22, Trump reignited the national debate over Kaepernick's protest when he asserted during an Alabama rally that NFL team owners should fire other players who protest by kneeling during the national anthem.
"Would 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 -- he's fired," Trump said.
That weekend, the highest number of NFL players ever knelt during the anthem in response to Trump's comment. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans remained in their locker rooms during the anthem.
Trump continued his criticism of the protests on social media.
"The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations," Trump tweeted on Sept. 26. "The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can't kneel during our National Anthem!"
On Sept. 28, the Professional Football Players Mothers Association, an association of the mothers of NFL players, published an open letter criticizing Trump for his comments, BuzzFeed News reports.
"It saddens the organization to know that President Donald Trump would make our sons -- as well as their mothers -- the target of inflammatory, offensive comments that are intended to promote anger and hatred, depleting them of their heritage and self-identity," the letter stated.
The PFPMA added: "Whether it be by kneeling or standing with their arms locked, our sons have chosen this platform to get the message out about social justice and unity, and they will always have our support."
Sources: BuzzFeed News, Donald J. Trump/Twitter, Fox & Friends via YouTube, NFL Media, USA Today / Feature Image: Arlington National Cemetery/Flickr / Embedded Images: Gonzo fan2007/Wikimedia Commons, Michael Vadon/Flickr