Buffalo Breeze - Monday 25th September, 2017
WASHINGTON, U.S. - Following a fresh tweetstorm by U.S. President Donald Trump, more NFL players took the knee during the national anthem on Sunday.
In what came one of the most powerful displays of unity by the Baltimore Ravens’ and Jacksonville Jaguars’ players and coaches, who locked arms, some players knelt during the rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner as it was sang at London’s Wembley Stadium.
The singer of the national anthem for the Falcons-Lions game in Detroit also took a knee at the end of the song and raised his fist.
The Steelers, meanwhile, did not take the field during the playing of the national anthem.
Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin said he made the decision to keep his team unified.
Earlier on Sunday, Trump renewed his demand that NFL owners “fire or suspend” players who kneel during the national anthem in protesting against racial inequality.
Trump even called on fans to boycott games if the practice continued.
About three hours before kickoff of the NFL’s first game of the day, staged in London at part of the league’s effort to extend its fan base over season - Trump tweeted, “If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”
He fired off a second tweet half an hour later, saying, “NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.”
Trump’s comments, dubbed ‘divisive’ by players, has triggered reactions from many on the rosters, coaching staffs and front offices of the NFL’s 32 teams.
Sunday’s protests by players became one of the largest protests by NFL players during the national anthem since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first began refusing to stand for the anthem in 2016.
Many are expected to see widespread protests later in the day when the full schedule of fixtures take place in games across the country.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti issued statements in contrast to Trump’s tweet and further escalated the political drama of the league’s game day.
Bisciotti said he “100 percent” supports his players’ decision to kneel during the national anthem.
At least seven of the players did and they were joined by more than a dozen Jacksonville Jaguars.
Kraft, who has been a strong backer of the president, expressed “deep disappointment” with Trump.
He said politicians could learn much from the unifying spirit of a competitive, team-oriented enterprise like football.
Kraft said in a statement, “Our players are intelligent, thoughtful, and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”
Meanwhile, Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam wrote that they didn’t want to let “misguided, uninformed and divisive comments from the President or anyone else deter us from our efforts to unify.”
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that his team wouldn’t be on the field when the anthem plays before the Steelers game in Chicago.
He said that he doesn’t want his players to be divided between those who kneel and those who stand.
Tomlin added, “We’re not going to be divided by anything said by anyone. We’re not going to let divisive times or divisive individuals affect our agenda.”
How it all started?
On Friday night, at a campaign rally in Alabama, Trump blasted NFL free agent Colin Kaepernick and said players who kneel during the national anthem should be fired and fans should leave games.
Kaepernick had set off a growing movement of protest from NFL players during the anthem and is no longer on a team.
Last year, Kaepernick drew national attention for refusing to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” prior to kickoff.
In August 2016, Kaepernick told NFL Media, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
It followed the high-profile deaths of several unarmed black men during confrontations with police officers.
Kaepernick was widely ostracised for his stance.
He has since been unable to find an employer in the NFL, America's most popular professional sports league.
Trump immediately took credit for his unemployment.
On Friday, Trump told the raucous rally, “Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a b---- off the field right now. He is fired.’”
Trump drew backlash from several NFL players, who fired back on Twitter.
Later, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement condemning Trump's "divisive" rhetoric.
He said, “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.”
Goodell added, “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.”
Refusing to give up, Trump ratcheted up his barbs on NFL and NBA players on Saturday.
Trump said on Twitter, ”If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!"
He also announced that NBA star Stephen Curry was no longer welcome at the White House after the Golden State Warriors point guard said he didn't want to pay the president a visit, a tradition for championship teams.
Trump tweeted, “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!"
LeBron James, the vice president of the NBA Players Association, was the first to rip the announcement.
Earlier this year, James’ Cleveland Cavaliers were defeated by Curry's Warriors.
James called Trump a "bum" in a tweet and said that visiting the White House was an honor "until you showed up!"
Speaking to reporters, Curry said that he did not want to go to the White House.
In June, he said that he "probably would not visit the White House due to Trump's stances on a variety of issues.”
He added, “By not going, hopefully it will inspire some change for what we tolerate in this country and what we stand for, what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye toward. It’s not just the act of not going. There are things you have do on the back end to push that message into motion. You can talk about all the different personalities that have said things and done things from [Colin] Kaepernick to what happened with Michael Bennett to all sorts of examples of what has gone on in our country that has led to change. We’re all trying to do what we can, using our platforms, our opportunities, to shed light on it. I don’t think not going to the White House will miraculously make everything better. But this is my opportunity to voice that.”
Warriors have not been issued a formal White House invitation, however, reports noted that the NBA has been communicating with the White House about a visit.
Critics have accused Trump of unfairly targeting those attempting to draw attention to the treatment of people of color in the U.S.
On Twitter, Washington Redskins linebacker Zach Brown told the president to stay in his place.
Meanwhile, Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron suggested that Trump should "stick to politics."
NBA Players Association head, Chris Paul slammed the president's remarks, questioning whether the president would call players "a son of a b----" to their face.
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