During an interview on Fox & Friends that aired Thursday morning, President Trump said he thinks NFL owners are reluctant to take action against players who don’t stand during the national anthem because they’re afraid of them.
Trump was responding to a question from Fox News’ Pete Hegseth about what prompted him to go on a tirade against players who don’t stand for the anthem during a speech last Friday in Alabama, saying, “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. He is fired. He’s fired!,’”
The president told Hegseth that he has “so many friends that are owners, and they’re in a box. I mean, I’ve spoken to a couple of them. They say, ‘We are in a situation where we have to do something.’ I think they’re afraid of their players if you know the truth, and I think it’s disgraceful.”
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) September 28, 2017
Roughly 70 percent of NFL players are black. Last season, quarterback Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee during the anthem to protest police brutality against people of color. No white NFL players participated in protests during the national anthem until last month.
Trump’s comments on Friday led to the most protests yet during last Sunday’s NFL games. Not only did more than 200 players kneel during the anthem, but more than 10 NFL owners or executives made public comments criticizing Trump’s remarks. A number of owners actually participated in anthem demonstrations with players.
During the Fox & Friends interview, Trump falsely claimed that the protests have caused NFL ratings to fall — they were actually up last week — and urged owners to implement a rule prohibiting players from doing anything others than standing “with respect” during the anthem.
“They have rules for everything — you can’t dance in the end zone, you can’t wear the pink socks relative to breast cancer — why aren’t they honoring this country by enforcing a rule that’s been in existence for a long time?” Trump said. In fact, there is no rule requiring players to stand during the anthem.
“When it comes to the respect of our nation, when it comes to the respect of our anthem and our flag, they have no choice,” Trump said. “You have to have people stand with respect.”
Trump’s idea that NFL owners — almost all of whom are white — are afraid of black players speaks to the social injustices that led Colin Kaepernick to take a knee in the first place. Kaepernick first kneeled for the anthem in August 2016, the month after a black man named Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer in St. Anthony, Minnesota. The officer who opened fire on Castile told dispatchers that he pulled Castile over because his “wide set nose” led him to believe he was a robbery suspect, and once he pulled him over, he was afraid Castile, who was legally carrying a firearm, was going to shoot him.
“I thought he had a gun in his hand,” officer Jeronimo Yanez later told investigators. “I thought I was gonna die. And, I was scared because, I didn’t know if he was gonna, I didn’t know what he was gonna do.”
On Sunday, Fox News dispatched Hegseth to cover the NFL protests by going to a tailgate outside MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey ahead of a Jets game and asking an almost entirely white group of fans what they thought about about them.
At no point during any of the conversations does Hegseth acknowledge why Kaepernick took a knee in the first place. Instead, Hegseth, following Trump’s lead, framed the protests as in opposition to patriotism in general and Trump in particular.