President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued his yearslong attack on athletes who kneel during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality. He urged NFL and college football leagues to play this year despite coronavirus concerns ― so long as players stand for the national anthem.
Asked whether he believes the NFL will move forward with its scheduled season opener next month, Trump told Fox Sports Radio that his administration is doing “everything possible” to help the league.
“They want to open badly,” Trump said. “I would say this: If they don’t stand for the national anthem, I hope they don’t open. But other than that, I’d love to see them open. ... They can protest in other ways. They shouldn’t protest our flag or our country.”
Trump, who claimed in June that he’s “an ally of all peaceful protesters,” has repeatedly bashed professional athletes for protesting during the national anthem since then-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee in 2016. The movement gained momentum this year following the police killing of George Floyd in May and the subsequent nationwide anti-racism protests.
On MLB’s opening day last month, players and coaches kneeled on the field for about 20 seconds before the national anthem was played. About a week later, NBA players wore Black Lives Matter shirts and kneeled during the national anthem on their league’s opening day.
Trump on Tuesday blamed the national anthem protests for the NBA’s declining ratings before attacking some players as “very nasty” and “very dumb.”
“I think it’s been horrible for basketball. Look at the basketball ratings,” the president said. “There was a nastiness about the NBA the way it was done, too. So I think the NBA is in trouble.”
He added that he “did not like what baseball did even a little bit.”
“Again, you have to stand for your flag, and you have to respect your flag and your country,” Trump said. “You’re making millions of dollars a year to play a sport you’d playing anyway if you didn’t make ― they’d be playing it on the weekends. And they have to respect their country.”
Trump said it would be a “tragic mistake” for college football leagues to cancel their season because of the pandemic.
Several conferences, including the Big Ten and Pac-12, have reportedly voted not to play this year. On Tuesday, the University of Massachusetts joined the University of Connecticut in canceling its football season.
“They’re very healthy people,” Trump said of college football players. “You know, people don’t realize, it’s a tiny percentage of people that get sick and they’re old. It just attacks old people, especially old people with bad hearts, diabetes or some kind of a physical problem, a weight problem.”
He continued: “These football players are very young, strong people physically. I mean they’re physically in extraordinary shape. So you’re not going to have a problem. ... You’re not going to see people dying.”
While it’s true that people 65 and older are much more likely to be hospitalized or die after contracting the virus than younger people, COVID-19 has proven to be serious and sometimes fatal in some young, healthy people.
Several prominent college football players have contracted the virus. Louisiana State University linebacker Travez Moore tweeted last week that he had lost 27 pounds during his battle with COVID-19.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.