9-24-17 6:49 PM EDT | Email Article

By Mike Murphy

Many kneel or lock arms in unity; Trump denies fuelling racial tensions

Scores of NFL players made public displays of unity Sunday in defiance of President Donald Trump's criticism of those who protest during the playing of the national anthem, as Trump denied he was inflaming racial tensions.

Forms of protest were seen at every NFL game Sunday. Some players took a knee while "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played, others locked arms or stayed off the field entirely (http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/20801902/pittsburgh-steelers-remain-locker-room-national-anthem). While about 70% of NFL players are African American, white players took part too, including New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (https://twitter.com/MarkDanielsPJ/status/911998394981322755).

(https://twitter.com/christoq/status/911965339587534848)

(https://twitter.com/Sports1280/status/912000791501828096)

(https://twitter.com/TomNamako/status/911999035279585280)

(https://twitter.com/Lelliottphoto/status/911999736663744514)

Trump renewed a yearlong feud with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on Friday. Last year, Kaepernick took a knee (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/colin-kaepernick-again-sits-out-national-anthem-others-join-protest-2016-09-01)during the pre-game anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality. In a speech in Alabama on Friday (http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/22/politics/donald-trump-alabama-nfl/index.html), Trump said NFL owners should fire any "son of a bitch" who "disrespects our flag."

On Sunday, Trump denied that he was inflaming racial tensions. "This has nothing to do with race," he said, according to a White House statement. "I've never said anything about race. This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country, and respect for our flag."

A number of athletes and NFL owners strongly defended players' rights to protest, and many NFL teams met before Sunday's games to discuss how they should respond.

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis, for example, issued a statement Sunday (http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/09/24/raiders-owner-mark-davis-issues-statement-to-espn-in-wake-of-donald-trumps-comments/)supporting his players' right to protest, asking them to "do it with class. Do it with pride."

Even Patriots owner Bob Kraft (https://twitter.com/Patriots/status/911926759590957056), a supporter and friend of Trump, said he was "deeply disappointed" by the president's comments, and supported players' rights "to peacefully affect social change."

The Seattle Seahawks were among the teams that stayed in the locker room during the anthem. In a statement, the team said (https://twitter.com/seahawksPR/status/912038744408166401): "We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. . . . We unite to oppose those that would deny us our most basic freedoms."

Speaking after his game Sunday, Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy said (https://twitter.com/JoeBuscaglia/status/912059303221239808)he "cannot support our president acting like a jerk."

Trump renewed his attacks against the NFL in a series of tweets Sunday morning, again calling for owners to "fire or suspend" players "disrespecting our flag," and calling kneeling "not acceptable." Trump also criticized the league's attendance and TV ratings, and suggested fans should boycott games as a counter-protest.

(https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/911904261553950720)

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(https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/912018945158402049)

(https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/912080538755846144)

Meanwhile, athletes' protests against Trump's comments spread to other sports. On Saturday night, Oakland Athletics rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player (http://www.sfgate.com/athletics/article/A-s-Bruce-Maxwell-first-MLB-player-to-kneel-for-12223798.php)to kneel during the national anthem. On Saturday, Trump said he had revoked an invitation (http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/09/23/warriors-critical-of-donald-trumps-withdrawn-invitation/)for the NBA champion Golden State Warriors to visit the White House after team leader Stephen Curry said he didn't want to go. A number of top players -- including LeBron James, who called Trump "U bum" (https://twitter.com/KingJames/status/911610455877021697) -- publicly supported Curry and the Warriors.

(https://twitter.com/itsmeglinehan/status/911805213832568832)Players also protested as the WNBA Finals between the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx began Sunday, with the Sparks walking off the floor and the Lynx locking arms for the anthem.

NASCAR appeared to be one sport where protests would not be tolerated, after several team owners told the Associated Press (https://apnews.com/dc7ba43160d049eca3a0460d093ad8e1/The-Latest:-NASCAR-owners-discourage-anthem-protests)they would fire drivers or crew members who protested during the anthem.

Also on Sunday, the NHL champion Pittsburgh Penguins accepted an invitation (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2017/09/24/pittsburgh-penguins-announce-they-have-accepted-invitation-to-attend-white-house/?utm_term=.875a17f4559e)to visit the White House.

-Mike Murphy; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

09-24-17 1849ET

Copyright (c) 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Copyright 2017 MarketWatch
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