Trump blasts NFL players for kneeling at preseason games

President Donald Trump blasted NFL players on Friday morning for protesting during the national anthem at preseason games, accusing them of being "unable to define" what they are protesting and suggesting the athletes should instead "be happy" and "be cool."

"The NFL players are at it again – taking a knee when they should be standing proudly for the national anthem. Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their “outrage” at something that most of them are unable to define. They make a fortune doing what they love," Trump said in a tweet.

Trump’s tweets came after some football players kneeled or showed other signs of protest during the national anthem at several preseason NFL games Thursday night.

"Be happy, be cool! A football game, that fans are paying soooo much money to watch and enjoy, is no place to protest. Most of that money goes to the anyway. Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!" Trump said on Twitter.

Contrary to the president’s claim, the NFL players who kneel for the national anthem have been vocal and specific about their protests, which began two seasons ago in opposition to racial injustice and police brutality. Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and some of his teammates wore t-shirts Thursday that said “more than 60% of prison populations are people of color” on the front and “nearly 5,000 kids are in adults prisons and jails” on the back, according to NBC Sports.

The NFL Players Association did not immediately return a request for comment.

The protests, which have grown over the past two seasons, sparked controversy and led NFL owners to approve a new policy in May that allows teams to fine players and other personnel who fail to stand during the national anthem. Players have the option to stay in the locker room during the song. Enforcement of that policy has been put on hold as the league negotiates with its players over the controversy.

Critics of the protest say players are disrespecting the American flag and national anthem when they protest during the song. But many protesting NFL players have argued that it is important to use their national platform to speak out against injustice, and that they have a right to free speech.

Jenkins and Eagles cornerback De’Vante Bausby raised their fists for the Star Spangled Banner Thursday night, according to the Associated Press. Miami Dolphins wide receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson kneeled for the anthem before their game.

Protests during the national anthem as an NFL-wide trend began years ago, sparked by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the anthem. The 30-year-old athlete took a knee in 2016 to protest racial injustice in the U.S., including police brutality.

The president drew attention to the issue last year at a rally in Alabama, collectively labeling kneeling players as a "son of a bitch" and suggesting they be thrown out of the league. Trump’s attention to the issue prompted significantly more players to protest, metastasizing the issue from a sports debate to a nationwide controversy.

Such protests also caught fire among other NFL players, and even college and high school athletes across the country. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who once conspicuously kept a "Make America Great Again" hat in his locker and who the president has joked could have been his son-in-law, praised the protests in an interview with Oprah Winfrey during the offseason, breaking with the president on the issue.

Kaepernick, a free agent who went unsigned and did not play in the league last season, tweeted his support for the players who protested on Thursday night.

“My brother @kstills continued his protest of systemic oppression tonight by taking a knee,” Kaepernick said. “Albert Wilson joined him in protest. Stay strong brothers!”

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