NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Numerous NFL teams on Sunday joined a chorus of NFL executives criticizing President Donald Trump’s suggestion that they fire players who kneel for the national anthem.
As CBS2’s Brian Conybeare reported, it started Sunday morning at Wembley Stadium in London, where several Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens players took a knee. Others locked arms or raised fists in response to President Donald Trump slamming the NFL, its owners and some players for not standing during the national anthem.
Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said Sunday that he “100 percent” supports his players’ decision to kneel during the national anthem. At least seven of them did so, joined by more than a dozen Jaguars.
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan joined in on his team’s protest.
“It was a privilege to stand on the sidelines with the Jacksonville Jaguars today for the playing of the U.S. national anthem at Wembley Stadium. I met with our team captains prior to the game to express my support for them, all NFL players and the league following the divisive and contentious remarks by President Trump, and was honored to be arm in arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during the National Anthem,” Khan said in part in a statement.
The protests spread to stadiums across America. In Tennessee, both the Titans and the Seahawks left their benches empty during the anthem, with the signer even kneeling down when she was done.
It was a similar scene at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, where both the Tennessee Titans and the Seattle Seahawks left their benches empty during the anthem.
And at Soldier Field in Chicago, the Pittsburgh Steelers chose to stay in the locker room to avoid the controversy before they took on the Bears.
“Not to be disrespectful to the anthem, to remove ourselves from this circumstance” was the goal, said Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin.
Former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills Coach Rex Ryan did not mince words.
“I’m pissed off. I’ll be honest with you,” Ryan said. “I supported Donald Trump. I’m reading these comments and it’s appalling to me.”
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who has been a strong backer of the president, expressed “deep disappointment” with Trump and said politicians could learn much from the unifying spirit of a competitive, team-oriented enterprise like football.
“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 in a statement.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the kneeling movement last year when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, refusing to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest the treatment of black people by police. Kaepernick became a free agent and has not been signed by a new team for this season.
Without identifying Kaepernick, Trump aimed a Friday talk at a Huntsville, Alabama, rally at those players who have knelt for the 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,”‘ he said to loud applause.
Again in a Sunday morning tweet, Trump urged his supporters to take action: “If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”
Just before boarding Air Force One in New Jersey Sunday, President Trump denied that his comments are inflaming racial tensions.
“This has nothing to do with race. I’ve never said anything about race. This has nothing to do with race or anything else,” Trump said. “This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.”
But numerous teams and owners also came out with statements slamming Trump Sunday.
San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York called Trump’s comments “callous and offensive.”
The Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans, Los Angeles Rams, Cleveland Browns, Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles, Tennessee Titans, Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins also issued statements on behalf of either the teams or owners Sunday.
Also for the first time Sunday, some New York Giants took a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner in Philadelphia before they played the Eagles.
And the New York Jets, like many teams, chose to lock arms and all stand in a show of unity that included their acting owner Chris Johnson.
“The team decided that before I got there, I just asked if I could join them,” Johnson said. “I’m just glad that everybody stood and we were together.”
“You look in this locker room and its people from different backgrounds all different creeds all different cultures, but we’re able to come together and say, whatever the problem is, we’re going to face this thing head on and face it together,” said Jets linebacker Demario Davis.
Earlier in the day, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin followed up Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” defending Trump, saying the NFL has many rules governing what players can and cannot do.
“I think what the president is saying is that the owners should have a rule that players should have to stand in respect for the national anthem,” Mnuchin said. “They can do free speech on their own time.”
U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-New York) told 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria that he of course understands the right of free speech, but on this issue, he agrees with Trump.
“They have the right to do it – the players do – and also, the owners have the right to fire them and people have the right not to go to the games,” King said. “I’m not going to any NFL games this year.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has taken heat for Kaepernick’s struggle to find a team, quickly condemned Trump’s comments.
“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,” Goodell said. “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.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)