During a 90-minute speech in Alabama, purportedly to support Senator Luther Strange who faces a special primary election next Tuesday, Trump diverted into an extended rant on the NFL.
His ire was focused primarily on Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who have participated in silent protests during the national anthem.
“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!,'” Trump shouted to a cheering audience.
Kaepernick has not been signed by an NFL team this season, despite possessing more talent and experience than many other quarterbacks on NFL rosters. Last year, he began taking a knee during the national anthem to protest the oppression of racial minorities.
Other players have continued the anthem protests in Kaepernick’s absence.
Trump has taken credit for Kaepernick’s inability to find work. “It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump,” Trump told a cheering crowd in Kentucky this July. “Do you believe that? I just saw that. I just saw that.”
In Alabama on Friday, Trump suggested that any fan who sees a player take a knee during an NFL game should “leave the stadium…pick up and leave.” He said that people wouldn’t be missing much anyway since the league has made modest efforts aimed at avoiding debilitating brain injuries. “They are ruining the game,” Trump said.
A recent study found that 99% of deceased NFL players have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. It is a “neurodegenerative brain disease” that is caused by “repeated head trauma.” Symptoms include “memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, anxiety, impulse control issues and sometimes suicidal behavior.”
During the campaign, Trump said that Kaepernick “should find a country that works better for him.”
Kaepernick has called Trump “openly racist.”
Last week, the White House called on ESPN to fire SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill after she tweeted that Trump was a white supremacist.
UPDATE: Some NFL players are responding to Trump on social media.
On Saturday morning, DeMaurice Smith, the Executive Director of the National Football League Players Association, issued this statement: