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Donald Trump says NFL owners are ‘afraid of their players’

US president called it ‘disgraceful’ that players are kneeling to protest police brutality

Several New England Patriots players kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans. Photo: Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

Donald Trump believes NFL owners are “afraid of their players” when it comes to the ongoing protest of racial and social injustice that’s swept the American sporting landscape.

“I have so many friends that are owners and they’re in a box,” Trump said in a Thursday interview with Fox News. “I mean, I’ve spoken to a couple of them, and they say, ‘We are in a situation where we need to do something.’ I think they’re afraid of their players, if you want to know the truth, and I think it’s disgraceful.”

He continued: “They’ve got to be tough and they’ve got to be smart.”

It was the latest salvo in Trump’s attack on NFL players who have refused to stand for the anthem, a six-day broadside launched with a speech in Alabama on Friday. “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!’” he said.

More than 200 NFL players kneeled, sat or prayed during the anthem in response to the president’s bellicose remarks, an unprecedented wave of protest in America’s most popular sports league. Trump’s rhetoric has drawn rebuke from beyond the gridiron. NBA superstar LeBron James called the president a “bum” and told reporters on Monday: “The people run this country, not one individual. And damn sure not him.”

Trump has given no quarter in the debate, saying during a South Lawn press gaggle on Wednesday that the NFL is “in a very bad box” and “their business is going to hell” barring a change in policy.

“You look at what’s happening with their ratings,” he said. “I mean, frankly, the only thing that’s doing well in the NFL is the pregame because everybody wants to see what’s going on.

“You cannot have people disrespecting our national anthem, our flag, our country, and that’s what they’re doing. And in my opinion, the NFL has to change or you know what’s going to happen? Their business is going to go to hell.”

He added: “We have to show total respect for our national anthem, for our flag, for our country, we have to do it. There are plenty of places – personally, when they’re protesting during a football game, I think they can find better places – but they cannot do it during the national anthem.”