A pro football season already rankled by lower-than-usual ratings took a sharp political turn this weekend, as President Donald Trump took aim at NFL players.
Some of the league’s stars — including the still-unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick — have knelt during the ceremony, raised their fists or turned their backs to the U.S. flag in a bid to raise awareness to injustice, including the mistreatment of blacks at the hands of police around the country.
Trump, however, unexpectedly slammed those players during a speech last night in Alabama, at one point saying of protesters: “Get that son of a bitch off the field.”
Without mentioning any particular names, Trump continued the attack on Saturday, tweeting that protesting players should not have jobs in the NFL at all.
Trump’s broadside quickly drew condemnation: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did not mention the president by name, but did say Trump’s comments "demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players.”
If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
...our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
Nevertheless, the new public spat could create new headaches for the league — a day before football Sunday, no less — at a time when it’s already grappling with lower-than-ever ratings.
Trump’s tweets targeting the NFL mark only his latest attacks against athletes who have criticized his presidency. Earlier, Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry said he would not attend a ceremony at the White House honoring his team’s NBA championship win — a move that led Trump to tweet that the “invitation is withdrawn.”
Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
Entering week three of the season, some of the dropoff in interest is beyond the NFL’s control, such as low viewership in football hubs like Texas and Florida, the sites of major devastation after two record hurricanes. But the league has plenty of other audience-affecting problems on its plate, from its players’ continued run-ins with the law for alleged domestic violence to mounting evidence about the game’s grave risks to players’ health.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.