After nearly two years of openly berating NFL players who declined to stand for the national anthem on gameday, President Donald Trump said Friday he is now willing to consider pardon recommendations from athletes protesting for justice reform.
His statement comes one day after a Yahoo Sports report that lawyers for Colin Kaepernick are expected to seek deposition subpoenas for Trump and other administration officials in the quarterback’s collusion case against the NFL. The goal of those subpoenas, sources told Yahoo Sports, will likely be obtaining testimony that would flesh out political pressure on the league regarding Kaepernick and players who declined to stand during the national anthem.
“We have a great country. You should stand for our national anthem,” Trump told reporters Friday. “You shouldn’t go in a locker room when our national anthem is played. I am going to ask all of those people to recommend to me – because that’s what they’re protesting – people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system. And I understand that. And I’m going to ask them to recommend to me people that were unfairly treated. Friends of theirs or people that they know about, and I’m going to take a look at those applications. And if I find and my committee finds that they’re unfairly treated, then we will pardon them or at least let them out.”
After consistently framing players who failed to stand for the national anthem as an assault on patriotism or the military, Trump’s statement Friday appeared to publicly acknowledge for the first time that protests were aimed at inequalities in the justice system. While the political motivations of the statement can be openly debated, the public nature of Trump’s comment – and the stated willingness to consider pardon recommendations from protesting athletes – represents a fairly dramatic contrast to previous rhetoric. Notably, it comes after Trump repeatedly suggested that protesting players should be fired or find another country.
Whether his latest statement generates dialogue between Trump or NFL players remains to be seen. But it’s unlikely at this stage to alter the pursuit of subpoenas by Kaepernick’s legal team, according to sources who spoke with Yahoo Sports on Friday.
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