The NFL has hit back at President Donald Trump after he blasted the League’s anthem protesters at a campaign rally for Senate candidate Luther Strange in Alabama on Friday.
Trump launched a sensational attack on NFL players who have kneeled in protest of the national anthem during a speech, challenging the league’s owners to release anyone who engages in the movement started last year by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” the president said at a rally at Huntsville’s Von Braun Center.
READ MORE: Kane at the double to play derby hero again
Trump went on to attribute the NFL’s dip in TV ratings to rule changes aimed at making the game less violent and limit head injuries.
“When the NFL ratings are down massively, massively,” he said. “Now the number one reason happens to be they like watching what’s happening … with yours truly. They like what’s happening. Because you know today if you hit too hard: Fifteen yards! Throw him out of the game!”
He added: “They’re ruining the game! That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game.”
The president then encouraged the American people to leave the stadium in a show of counter-protest if they see a player kneeling during the anthem, which is performed before the kick-off of all NFL games.
“But do you know what’s hurting the game more than that?” he said. “When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem. The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium.
“I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway.”
However, many NFL players were angered by his comments and the NFL was forced to issue a statement on Saturday.
Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote: “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.
“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.”