Colin Kaepernick praises anthem protesters as Trump renews NFL attacks

Guardian sport
The Guardian
  • President says protests likely to be affecting TV ratings

  • League still struggling to find policy that appeases all parties

<span class="element-image__caption"><a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/26767/" data-ylk="slk:Kenny Stills">Kenny Stills</a> and <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/28046/" data-ylk="slk:Albert Wilson">Albert Wilson</a> knelt before the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/mia" data-ylk="slk:Miami Dolphins">Miami Dolphins</a> season opener on Sunday. </span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Wilfredo Lee/AP</span>
Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson knelt before the Miami Dolphins season opener on Sunday. Photograph: Wilfredo Lee/AP

As the NFL entered the first Sunday of the new season– and Donald Trump continued his attack on protesting players – Colin Kaepernick praised the Miami Dolphins’ Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson for kneeling during the anthem.

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Kaepernick started kneeling for the anthem in 2016 to highlight racial injustice in the United States. The protest soon spread around the league with critics – including the US president – saying it disrespected the flag and the military. The NFL and players union have yet to announce an anthem policy after the league initially ruled that teams could be fined if players knelt during the Star-Spangled Banner. On Sunday, ESPN reported that “too many people have stances too strong to figure out a compromise.”

On Sunday, Trump noted that television ratings for the league’s opening game on Thursday were down on last year. “Wow, NFL first game ratings are way down over an already really bad last year comparison,” Trump tweeted. “Viewership declined 13%, the lowest in over a decade. If the players stood proudly for our Flag and Anthem, and it is all shown on broadcast, maybe ratings could come back? Otherwise worse!”

The NFL’s television ratings have been in decline for some years, although that is in line with a broader trend in audiences across America. The number of players protesting during the anthem has also fallen. Just two of the 2,880 players on the sidelines this preseason knelt during the anthem, while one chose to sit. The same two players – the Stills and Wilson – also knelt before Sunday’s regular season game. Their teammate Robert Quinn stood for the anthem but raised his fist.

Kaepernick tweeted his support for the players on Sunday. “My Brothers @kstills and @ithinkisee12 continue to show their unwavering strength by fighting for the oppressed! They have not backed down, even when attacked and intimidated. Their courage will move the world forward!,” he wrote.

This week Nike launched a new ad campaign led by Kaepernick. While some fans burned Nike products in protest, the company reported sales of its products rose 31% in the days following the campaign’s launch.

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