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President Trump, who has been a very vocal critic of quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the past for his decision to kneel during the national anthem, told reporters Wednesday if Kaepernick “deserves” to be signed by an NFL team, he would like to see him back in the NFL.

“If he deserves it, he should, if he has the playing ability,” Trump said. “He started off great, and then, he didn’t end up very great in terms of as a player. He was terrific in his rookie year. I think he was very good in his second year, and then something happened.

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“The answer is absolutely I would. As far as kneeling, I would love to see him get another shot, but obviously, he has to be able to play well. If he can’t play well, I think it would be very unfair.”

In the past, Trump’s statements on Kaepernick have had a far different tone. At a 2017 rally, he speculated about the possibility of owners releasing players who kneel during the national anthem.

“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!’,” Trump said. “You know, some owner is going to do that.

“He’s going to say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’re friends of mine, many of them. They don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in this country.”

Donald Trump has consistently spoken out against athletes taking a knee, including Colin Kaepernick.
Donald Trump has consistently spoken out against athletes taking a knee, including Colin Kaepernick.Yuri Gripas/Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/

Kaepernick, 32, has not played in the NFL since 2016, the same season he knelt during the national anthem to protest racial inequality.

Wednesday’s statements from Trump were made in the wake of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s interview from earlier in the week in which he said he would “encourage” a team to sign Kaepernick.

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“Obviously, it’s going to take a team to make that decision,” Goodell said, speaking with ESPN on the possibility of Kaepernick’s return to the league. “But I welcome that, support a club making that decision, and encourage them to do that.

“If his efforts are not on the field but continuing to work in this space, we welcome him to that table and to help us, guide us, help us make better decisions about the kinds of things that need to be done in the communities,” Goodell added. “We have invited him in before, and we want to make sure that everybody’s welcome at that table, and trying to help us deal with some very complex, difficult issues, that have been around for a long time.

“But I hope we’re at a point now where everybody’s committed to making long-term, sustainable change.”


Christopher Price can be reached at christopher.price@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at cpriceglobe.