Update (6:45 pm ET): More NFL teams are pushing back against President Donald Trump's call for the NFL to "change its policy" to stop players from kneeling for the National Anthem. The Tennessee Titans announced they are joining the Seattle Seahawks in deciding not to come out for the national anthem. The Seahawks announced nearly 30 minutes before kickoff that they would not stand because they “will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country.”
The Titans followed 10 minutes later by saying they too would remain in the locker room during the national anthem. They posted a statement on their website noting they want to be unified as a team with the players deciding jointly that staying inside was the best course of action.
Looks like the approach of staying in the locker room, where players are hidden from public view, is catching on after the Pittsburg Steelers tried it earlier today.
So get used to seeing images like this:
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Update (5:50 pm ET): At an impromptu press conference at his private golf club in Bedminster, NJ, President Trump emphatically insisted that his comments about professional athletes who kneel during the National Anthem had nothing to do with race. On Friday evening, Trump suggested that anyone who kneels for the anthem is a "son of a b***h" who deserves to be fired.
"This has nothing to do with race. I've never said anything about race."
He reiterated that standing for the anthem is a matter of respect for our country, and believes the owners should take a stand in defense of American values.
"I think the owners should do something about it. it's very disrespectful to our flag and our country."
He also tweeted that athletes "MUST honor and respect" the flag, which so many brave Americans fought and died for.
Courageous Patriots have fought and died for our great American Flag --- we MUST honor and respect it! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
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Update (2:30 pm ET): Trump has chimed in on twitter to offer his latest thoughts about athletes protesting at professional sporting events, clarifying that "locking arms" during the National Anthem as a gesture of solidarity is ok, but that taking a knee is still unacceptable:
Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Trump also revealed that the Pittsburgh Penguins, the current NHL champions, would be attending a ceremony at the White House.
Please to inform that the Champion Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL will be joining me at the White House for Ceremony. Great team!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
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Update (1:30 pm ET): This afternoon's round of NFL games has begun and as expected players from nearly every team playing today took a knee during the National Anthem, locked arms in solidarity with players who decided to take a knee, or - in the case of the Pittsburg Steelers - remained in the locker room, and thus weren't visible to the public.
In Philadelphia, Eagles and Giants players and coaches locked arms as a massive American flag was raised over the field and military jets performed a flyover. A few players raised fists or knelt, according ot the New York Times. Several players on the Bills and the Broncos also took a knee.
The Steelers didn't participate in the Anthem, as coach Mike Tomlin had warned, remaining in the locker room instead - except for LT Alejandro Villanueva, an army veteran who stood by the tunnel with his hand over his heart.
Even Tom Brady, who as NYT notes is friends with Trump, jooined his teammates in locking arms during the anthem before the Patriots' game against the Texans In Foxborough. Brady also put his hand over his heart.
Other Patriots players kneeled.
Here's one memorable photo from the Steeler's sideline:
Players on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Houston Texans also locked arms
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Update (12:00 pm ET): The player backlash to Trump's calls for sports leagues to fire or suspend players who kneel during the National Anthem is expanding as superstar players like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have posted messages of solidarity with protesters on social media.
Also, the Pittsburgh Steelers have announced that they will remain in the locker room during the Anthem during a 1 p.m. ET game against the Chicago Bears in Chicago.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made the announcement during an interview with CBS.
"For us as a football team it's about us remaining solid. We're not going to be divided by anything said by anyone. I told the players if you feel the need to do anything I will be supportive of that, as Americans you have that right, but whatever we do, we're going to do 100% we're going to do together...we're not going to play politics with football players or football coaches. We're not participating in the anthem today. We're not going to let divisive times or divisive individuals affect our agenda. We're not participating in the anthem..to remove ourselves from this circumstance...because people shouldn't have to choose."
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Update (11:30 am ET): During an appearance on ESPN's "NFL Sunday Countdown", a football show that this week was coopted by politics, former Buffalo Bills and New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan admitted that he was "pissed off" about President Donald Trump referring to pro athletes who don't stand for the pledge as "sons of bitches" and urging fans to boycott the league, or at least walk out of stadiums when they see players protesting.
“I’m pissed off, I’ll be honest with you,” Ryan said on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown.” “I supported Donald Trump. When he asked me to introduce him at a rally in Buffalo, I did that. But I’m reading these comments and it’s appalling to me and I’m sure it’s appalling to any citizen in our country.”
“Calling our players SOBs and all that kind of stuff? That’s not the men that I know,” Ryan, who's now an analyst, continued. “The men I know in the locker room, I’m proud of, I’m proud to be associated with those people.”
As the Hill notes, Ryan introduced Trump at a rally in Buffalo during the 2016 election and endorsed him for president.
“I’m pissed off I’ll be honest. I supported Trump, and I’m appalled at these comments. SOB’s? Not the men that I know.” - Rex Ryan just now pic.twitter.com/hsJRRktlsv— justin kanew (@Kanew) September 24, 2017
Earlier, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who also supported Trump during the campaign, said he was "deeply disappointed" in the president.
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Update (10:35 ET): Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has become the first senior Trump administration official to publicly address Trump's feud with the NFL and NBA - the president called for fans to boycott the NFL unless owners fire or discipline players who kneel during the National Anthem - saying the issue wasn't about free speech and that players have first amendment rights when they're off the field.
"The NFL has all different types of rules ... it's not about free speech. They can do free speech on their own time," Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
Mnuchin, of course, offered his thoughts about what Trump “was really trying to say” when he lashed out at sports teams. Trying to interpret or clarify Trump’s remarks to make them seem less wild/offensive/inarticulate has become common practice among members of the Trump administration. “I think what the president is saying is that owners should have a rule that players should stand and respect the national anthem” likening it to a rule about not placing stickers on helmets.
Marc Short, the president’s legislative director, has also backed his boss, telling "Meet the Press" that a double standard for players who chose to voice their views on the field, and that the president was speaking for the majority of Americans on what sort of expression was appropriate. Short compared a crackdown on protests to the ban on high school football coaches leading players in prayer before games.
“There are high school coaches across America today who are punished for leading their players in prayer, and yet, when an N.F.L. player takes a knee, somehow that player is presumed to be a martyr for a social cause,” Mr. Short said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The president is standing with the vast majority of Americans who believe that our flag should be respected.”
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Update (10:20 am ET): It's 10:30 ET am on a Sunday morning, and already there have been several notable developments in President Trump's feud with professional sports teams who tolerate players who kneel during the National Anthem. During the first NFL game since the feud started to escalate on Saturday, at least a dozen players on the Jacksonville Jaguars took a knee during the National Anthem at a game in London against the Baltimore Ravens, as Sports Illustrated reports.
Players from both teams stood during the playing of "God Save the Queen", though players linked arms during the song. Jaguars owner Shad Khan linked arms with Jaguars tight end linebacker Telvin Smith. Khan, who like Kraft also donated to the Trump campaign, said he would not be issuing a statement about the feud, and referred reporters to a league statement.
Meanwhile, last night, Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first Major League Baseball player to take a knee, as Bleacher Report noted.
"The Oakland A's pride ourselves on being inclusive," the team said in a statement. "We respect and support all of our players' constitutional rights and freedom of expression."
Manager Bob Melvin told Bleacher Report that Maxwell informed the team before the game that he intended to kneel. Melvin added that Maxwell had deeply considered whether to kneel or not. Maxwell later issued a statement on twitter where he said he didn't mean to disrespect the military by kneeling. "It's not disrespectful to our constitution. It's not to disrespect our country. My hand was over my heart because I love this country. I've had plenty of family members, including my father, that have bled for this country."
Bruce Maxwell: pic.twitter.com/fRaVHf2gPs— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) September 24, 2017
MLB also released a statement:
"Major League Baseball has a longstanding tradition of honoring our nation prior to the start of our games. We also respect that each of our players is an individual with his own background, perspectives and opinions. We believe that our game will continue to bring our fans, their communities and our players together."
We imagine we'll see more gestures like this during NFL games set in the US later today.
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Trump's bizarre, concurrent fight with the NBA and NFL, in which he slammed players who kneel during the US anthem and also rescinded an invitation to Warriors' star Stephen Curry, escalated on Sunday morning when Trump blasted a couple of tweets first saying that "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!" The president added that "NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S."
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
...NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
This led to one of Trump's closest allies, New England Patriots Chariman and CEO Robert Kraft, issuing a statement shortly thereafter in which he slammed Trump's Friday comments.
The Patriots owner, who donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration committee and gave Trump a custom Super Bowl ring, issued a strongly worded rebuke to the president Sunday morning in the wake of Trump's criticism of the NFL and its players.
"I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday," Kraft wrote. "I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger.
"There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. 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.”
Separately, Patriots tackle Nate Solder tweeted earlier on Sunday that his team is united despite any differences of opinion among players about the protests.
stand or kneel, that's a free choice, you won't see any division in this locker room over that, we respect each other too much.— Nate Solder (@soldernate) September 24, 2017
Previously on Saturday, several NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goodell had already issued statements Saturday after Trump's feud with players who have taken a knee in protest during the national anthem. The president criticized those protests at a rally Friday in Alabama and repeated them on Twitter both Saturday and Sunday morning.
stand or kneel, that's a free choice, you won't see any division in this locker room over that, we respect each other too much.
— Nate Solder (@soldernate) September 24, 2017
Widespread player action is expected before Sunday's games.
As the New York Times pointe dout, the feud has struck a chord with many of Trump’s core supporters, some of whom applauded him on social media for his stance. But he has also been criticized by prominent athletes like LeBron James. Many NFL franchise owners and coaches are donors or friends of the president.
Below is the full statement from Patriots Chairman & CEO Robert Kraft:
"I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday. I am proud to be associated with so many plagers who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger. There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. 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."