WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump renewed his criticism of the NFL on Sunday, using the league’s opening weekend to raise a recurrent fight over kneeling during the national anthem.
“Wow, NFL first game ratings are way down over an already really bad last year comparison,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. “If the players stood proudly for our Flag and Anthem, and it is all shown on broadcast, maybe ratings could come back?”
Trump has tweeted nearly three dozen times about the NFL since taking office last year. The league proposed a policy requiring players on the field to stand during the anthem, but the idea has essentially been tabled while officials continue to negotiate.
Players who have taken part in the protests have described them as a means of calling attention to racial inequality and police brutality.
There was little sign of protest during the season opening game Thursday between the the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons. Two Eagles players took seats near the end of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Here’s a look some of Trump’s most controversial tweets on the subject:
First NFL tweet
Trump first raised the issue during a rally last year in Alabama. A day, later he tweeted that NFL players should be fired if they protest during the anthem.
“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 our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem,” Trump wrote over two tweets in late September. “If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
All about the ratings
A former television star, Trump is often obsessed with ratings as a measure of success. A day after his first tweet on the issue, the president suggested NFL ratings had fallen because of the anthem protests.
“NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.,” he wrote.
Eagles, Trump call off event
The controversy spread beyond Twitter this summer when several Eagles said they would not show up at the White House for an event to honor their Super Bowl win. Trump abruptly called off the event, and spoke briefly at an event honoring the anthem, instead.
“We will proudly be playing the National Anthem and other wonderful music celebrating our Country today at 3 P.M.,” Trump wrote. “The White House, with the United States Marine Band and the United States Army Chorus. Honoring America! NFL, no escaping to Locker Rooms!”
Change the law?
Trump appeared to take the fight to a new level last fall, suggesting the government change tax laws to punish the league. But little came of the idea, in part because the league had ended its tax-exempt, nonprofit status in 2015. Individual teams often secure big tax breaks from local and state governments to build new stadiums.
“Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!” Trump wrote.
Pence walks out
Vice President Mike Pence drew national headlines for walking out on a game in October when about a dozen San Francisco 49ers took a knee during the anthem in Indianapolis. Trump later tweeted that he asked Pence to leave if any of the players took part in the protest while he was there.
“I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country,” Trump wrote in October. “I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.”
Contributing: Jarrett Bell
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