MORRISTOWN, New Jersey — President Donald Trump insisted Sunday that his opposition to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality "has nothing to do with race" but has to do with "respect for our country and respect for our flag."
Trump, who inflamed the sports world on Friday by saying players who protest police brutality during The Star Spangled Banner by refusing to stand or conducting other acts of defiance should be fired, reiterated Sunday that owners "should do something" about the protests.
Trump, as he prepared to board Air Force One to return to Washington from New Jersey on Sunday, said he didn't think his comments Friday on players being fired or since have inflamed racial tensions. Trump said the players protesting the anthem were "very disrespectful to our country."
In one tweet, Trump said that "Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad Ratings!" In another tweet, he says people "MUST honor and respect" the American flag.
In another tweet, Trump said the NHL champion Pittsburgh Penguins will be going to the White House f or a ceremony. Trump recently rescinded a White House invitation for Stephen Curry of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the kneeling movement last year when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, refusing to stand during The Star-Spangled Banner to protest the treatment of black people by police. Kaepernick became a free agent and has not been signed by a new team for this season.
"This has nothing to do with race. I've never said anything about race," Trump said. "This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag."
Trump said he was not watching NFL games on Sunday — "Believe me, I'm doing other things," he said — but said he watched a little bit and "I will say there was tremendous solidarity for our flag and for our country."
Following the president's comments on Friday, more than 100 NFL players sat, knelt or raised their fists in defiance during the national anthem on Sunday. Several NFL owners also condemned Trump's statement, including ally Robert Kraft, owner of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, who expressed "deep disappointment" with Trump.
"I like Bob very much. He's my friend. He gave me a Super Bowl ring a month ago. So he's a good friend of mine and I want him to do what he wants to do," Trump said. "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."
When you add up the numbers, about one in eight NFL players did not stand this weekend.
AP reporters and photographers counted the players kneeling or sitting at every NFL game Sunday. With one more game to go Monday night, already more than 200 players chose to protest. A handful of others raised their fists.
The league has 1,696 players on active rosters.
Last week, only six NFL players protested, continuing the movement started last year by Kaepernick.
but Trump's comments and tweets saying protesting players should be fired sparked a massive show of defiance. Three teams stayed off the field for the anthems entirely. Other teams locked arms, with some players standing, some kneeling and some sitting.