President Trump said on Sunday his friend Robert Kraft could “do what he wants” after the owner of the New England Patriots said he was “deeply disappointed” in the president’s comments on NFL players.
Trump spoke with reporters on Sunday on the tarmac at Morristown Municipal Airport in New Jersey before boarding Air Force One.
In a speech in Alabama on Friday night and again on Twitter, the president said he believed NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem before games should be fired.
Dozens of players knelt in protest on Sunday, and many others sat on the bench or stood but linked arms, including Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
The show of defiance included far more players than in previous weeks, kneeling to protest police brutality against black Americans. A week ago, just four players didn’t stand, and two raised their fists.
In a statement posted on the Patriots’ Twitter account on Sunday, Kraft said, “I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the president’s comments on Friday.
“I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal,” he said. “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.”
Asked to respond to Kraft’s criticism on Sunday, Trump said, “Look, that’s OK. He has to take his ideas and go with what he wants. I think its very disrespectful to our country. I think its very, very disrespectful to our flag,” according to a transcript of his comments from the reporting pool.
Trump continued, “I like Bob very much, we’re friends — he gave me a Super Bowl ring a month ago, right? — so he’s a good friend of mine, and I want him to do what he wants to do, but we have a great country, we have great people representing our country, especially our soldiers, our first responders, and they should be treated with respect, and when you get on your knee and you don’t respect the American flag or the anthem, that’s not being treated with respect.”
The movement started more than a year ago when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem as a protest of police treatment of black people. This season, no team has signed him.
Asked Sunday if he was inflaming racial tensions with his remarks, Trump said, “This has nothing to do with race. I never said anything about race. This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.”
Patriots kneel while Tom Brady and others lock arms
This report contains material from the Associated Press.