Trump vs. pro sports: President finds new target in America First agenda

Professional sports have been caught in President Trump’s crosshairs as of late after he issued stinging attacks against protesting athletes and team owners.

"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 ...," Trump said in tweets Saturday afternoon. "Our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!"

The president, who spent the earlier part of this week targeting worldwide foes and U.S. senators, began his attacks on pro sports in earnest Friday night when he blasted NFL players for kneeling in protest during the national anthem. He also called out league owners for not punishing what he considered an act of disrespect.

“We’re proud of our country," Trump said during a political rally in Alabama. "We respect our flag. Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say get that son of a b---h off the field, right now, out? He’s fired.”


Trump’s comments on players like Colin Kaepernick resulted in sharp backlash overnight, however he didn’t stop there.

In an early morning tweet, he rescinded Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry’s invitation to attend a White House event honoring the team winning the 2017 NBA championship.

“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” Trump wrote.

The tweet came a day after Curry told ESPN that he did not want to attend the event and that the team would “send a statement” if the players collectively voted on not attending.

The NBA did not immediately react to Trump's tweet about Curry on Saturday.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told The Players' Tribune back in July he believes teams should visit the White House when invited, though also said he would not order anyone to make such a trip.

"I think that these institutions are bigger than any individual politician, any individual elected official," Silver said then. "And it concerns me that something like going to the White House after winning a championship, something that has been a great tradition, would become one that is partisan. I will say, though, even though I think that teams should make decisions as organizations, that I would also respect an individual player's decision not to go."

As for Trump’s comments on the NFL, the league’s president said they were disrespectful.

“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture," Goodell said in a statement. "Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”

On Saturday evening, Trump lashed out at Goodell on Twitter, accusing him of "trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country."

The NFL Players Association also issued its own statement.

“The peaceful demonstrations by some of our players have generated a wide array of responses,” DeMaurice Smith, the union’s executive director, said in a statement. “Those opinions are protected speech and a freedom that has been paid for by the sacrifice of men and women throughout history. However, the line that marks the balance between the rights of every citizen in our great country gets crossed when someone is told to just "shut up and play."

To be sure, the NFL players sitting or kneeling during the anthem, at the start of the game, has sparked a national debate, with some arguing that Kaepernick not being hired this year in the NFL is a response to his outspokenness.

Championship-winning teams attending the White House ceremony has become an increasingly political issue since Trump became president.

NFL Super Bowl champ New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady's decision not to attend his team's White Hose event in April sparked controversy, despite Brady thanking Trump and citing family issues.

“Thank you to the president for hosting this honorary celebration and for supporting our team for as long as I can remember,” Brady said in a statement. “In light of some recent development, I am unable to attend today’s ceremony, as I am attending to some personal family matters.”

Trump has met with some teams already in his first year in office.

Clemson visited the White House this year after winning the College Football Playoff, some members of the New England Patriots went after the Super Bowl victory and the Chicago Cubs went to the Oval Office in June to commemorate their World Series title. The Cubs also had the larger and more traditional visit with President Barack Obama in January, four days before the Trump inauguration.

Trump, from the start of his winning 2016 presidential campaign, has attacked people with whom he disagrees, including calling Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio “little Marco,” and most recently North Korean leader Kin Jun Un “little Rocket Man,” for his continued rocket launches in pursuit of a nuclear arsenal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.