President Trump took his attacks on the First Amendment to a new level Thursday, suggesting NFL players “shouldn’t be in the country” if they insist on peacefully protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.
Trump drew seething criticism for the remark, which came in response to NFL’s announcement Wednesday that teams whose players do not stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” will be fined. The new policy allows players to remain in the locker room during the playing of the anthem.
“Well, I think that’s good,” Trump said of the policy shift during an early morning appearance on “Fox & Friends.” “I don’t think people should be staying in locker rooms, but still I think it’s good. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, and the NFL owners did the right thing if that’s what they’ve done.”
NFL talk show host Benjamin Allbright blasted Trump as an “idiot.”
“It violates the first amendment,” Allbright tweeted of the new anthem policy. “If you truly dont want people kneeling, solve their root issues & they’ll want to stand.”
University of Miami Professor Rula Jebreal likened Trump to a slave-owner.
“POTUS showing his true colors again,” Jebreal tweeted. “‘Freedom’ in the cotton fields, where if you speak up…You are told to go back to Africa.”
When Trump entered the polarizing anthem debate last September, he inflamed the issue to unprecedented proportions.
He called any protesting player a “son of a bitch” who should be fired from his job, which prompted dozens more players to join the demonstrations started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016.
Kaepernick, who is not currently under contract with a team, is suing the NFL along with former teammate Eric Reid for what they allege is collusion to keep them jobless.
Kaepernick started the peaceful protest to bring attention to police brutality and social injustice.
The 30-year-old quarterback showed he still believes actions are louder words Thursday, declining to comment when approached by the Daily News after a workout at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are taking credit for forcing the NFL’s hand in creating the new policy. Pence tweeted “#winning” on Wednesday with a headline about the policy, and Trump took a dig at league leadership’s slow arrival at the decision.
“I think the people pushed it forward. This was not me,” Trump said. “I brought it out. I think the people pushed it forward. This country’s very smart. We have very smart people. And that’s something ideally (that) could have been taken care of when it first started. It would have been a lot easier. But if they did that, they’re doing the right thing.”
Some players, however, took the new anthem directive as an infringement on their constitutional rights, and pledged to keep kneeling no matter the cost.
“FINE ME!!!!” Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dawuane Smoot tweeted. “You can’t change my opinion, and can’t stop my protest. I have a right as an American to protest when I feel there is injustice in this country.”
New York-based civil rights activist Michael Skolnik interpreted Trump’s celebration of the new NFL policy as part of a larger and more sinister “culture war.”
“Telling black NFL players to leave the country. Calling undocumented immigrants ‘animals.’ Banning Muslims from the US. Attacking Chicago for gun violence,” Skolnik tweeted. “He knows that fear and division feeds his base of white voters.”
The NFL claimed approval on the new policy was unanimous among the 32 team owners, but 49ers owner Jed York revealed he abstained from voting because he wanted to hear from more players.