President Donald Trump has repeatedly called on the NFL to punish players who kneel on the field in protest of racial inequality and police violence.
Now, in the wake of the NFL’s new policy that all players must “stand and show respect” during the national anthem, Trump has suggested that players who kneel don’t belong in the US.
“You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country,” Trump said in an interview with Fox & Friends that aired on Thursday.
“The NFL owners did the right thing,” he added.
On Wednesday, the NFL and the owners of its 32 teams announced a new policy: Players will no longer be required to be on the field during the anthem and may stay in the locker room during that time if they choose. But those who do go out to the field and don’t stand during the anthem could face a penalty.
The new policy does not ban kneeling outright — it allows individual teams to create their own rules and penalties for players who kneel or sit during the anthem. But the policy also gives the league the ability to fine teams whose players do so.
In a Wednesday statement, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell noted that the kneeling protests had called attention to important social issues but added that they had “created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic.”
“This is not and was never the case,” he said.
During the Fox & Friends interview, Trump also discussed immigration issues, saying that any new immigration bill would have to include provisions to build a border wall. As president, he’s enacted a travel ban against citizens of several Muslim-majority countries, antagonized Mexico over the building of a border wall, and referred to Mexicans as rapists and criminals.
Trump has long criticized NFL players’ kneeling protests
The kneeling protests started in the summer of 2016 when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem at several preseason games. When his actions were noticed by reporters, Kaepernick said he was protesting police violence and America’s mistreatment of people of color.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told NFL.com in 2016.
Trump’s critiques of the NFL protests date back to his time on the campaign trail in August 2016 when, speaking of the early days of Kaepernick’s protests, he said that if the athlete was truly upset, he “should find a country that works better for him.”
But they drew even more attention last September, when, during a rally for then-Alabama Sen. Luther Strange, Trump argued that players who protest should be removed from the field. “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!’” Trump said.
In the months that followed, the president repeatedly spoke about the protests and shared his thoughts on Twitter, arguing that the protests were unpatriotic.
As he did, the public conversation about the protests shifted from discussions of race and racism to the perceived patriotism or lack thereof of the players.
Over time, it became clear that NFL owners, even as fewer players took up kneeling, wanted the issue to go away. “You fellas need to ask your compadres, fellas, stop that other business, let’s go out and do something that really produces positive results, and we’ll help you,” Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said during an October 2017 meeting between NFL players and owners.
With its new policy, the NFL has given Trump exactly what he wanted.