President Trump continued his attack on the NFL for a fifth day Tuesday morning, producing several more tweets about players not standing for the national anthem.
“The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can’t kneel during our National Anthem!” Trump wrote.
But the NFL chose not to respond directly to the president and instead focus on its theme of unity.
“He’s exercising his freedom to speak, and I’m exercising my freedom not to react,” NFL executive vice president of communications Joe Lockhart said Tuesday morning. “Whatever people’s purposes are for being in this debate, all of this has brought our teams closer together.”
Lockhart said the league was proud of the displays from the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals before their Monday night game. The entire Cowboys team, including owner Jerry Jones, took a knee before the playing of the anthem, then stood together with locked arms during the playing of it. Cardinals players also locked arms for the anthem.
“What you saw was driven by both teams wanting to make a statement, each in their own way, but completely united with their teams,” Lockhart said. “All in the face of a lot of forces out there that have been divisive over the last three or four days. It was a strong showing of unity.”
The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can't kneel during our National Anthem!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
The booing at the NFL football game last night, when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees, was loudest I have ever heard. Great anger— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
Ratings for NFL football are way down except before game starts, when people tune in to see whether or not our country will be disrespected!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
Trump’s remarks about the NFL at a rally in Alabama Friday and his continued Twitter attacks prompted an unprecedented level of player demonstrations during the national anthem throughout Sunday’s games, with dozens of players taking a knee and three teams — the Seahawks, Titans, and Steelers — remaining in the locker room for the song. One Steeler, however, former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva, came to the end of the tunnel to stand for the anthem.
They also prompted the owners of all 32 teams to release statements either condemning Trump’s comments or supporting the players’ right to free speech.
Thousands of fans across the country, including some in Foxborough at the Patriots-Texans game, booed the players for their demonstrations, apparently viewing them as anti-flag, anti-military, or anti-police.
But Lockhart emphasized Tuesday that the players and teams were making a plea for equality and social justice.
“For those who oppose what they saw last night, that’s their right, that’s their privilege,” Lockhart said. “But it never has been about respect for the flag. What it is about is efforts to raise awareness to make progress on equality and social justice, and the NFL stands with those who speak to that and want to do that.”
Lockhart also noted that TV ratings for Monday’s Cardinals-Cowboys game on ESPN were up 63 percent from the Week 3 Monday night game last year, though the 2016 game was played on the same night as a presidential debate.
Lockhart also announced that starting with Thursday night’s Bears-Packers game, the NFL will work with broadcast partners CBS and Amazon to raise funds for and spread awareness of the unfolding tragedy in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
Follow Ben Volin on Twitter @BenVolin.