The White House on Monday staunchly defended President Trump’s criticism of the NFL's anthem protesters, saying it is “always appropriate” for the president of the United States to “defend” the flag and the National Anthem.
A day after dozens of football players kneeled and locked arms in response to Trump's head-on criticism of such displays, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders fielded multiple questions on Trump's escalating feud with the NFL.
“This isn’t about the president being against anyone. This is about the president and millions of Americans standing for something,” Sanders said. “Honoring the flag, the National Anthem and the men and women who fought to defend it.”
She added: “It is always appropriate for the president of this country to promote our flag, to promote our national anthem and ask people to respect it.”
When pressed further about whether the president took his comments too far, Sanders said his remarks weren’t meant to be divisive. She said the flag is “something that should bring us together, not divide us.”
“You’re missing the entire purpose—he is emphasizing something that should be unifying,” Sanders said, adding that it was a “celebration” of “patriotism.”
The controversy kicked off Friday evening at Trump’s rally in Alabama, when he called for players to be fired if they disrespected the 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 –off the field right now? Out! He’s fired! He’s fired!” Trump said to the crowd Friday, drawing criticism from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL players, and launching a days-long feud.
“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 community,” Goodell said.
The controversy over standing for the National Anthem first began last football season, when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest police brutality against the African-American community. Kaepernick is currently a free agent and has yet to be drafted to a team.
The president stepped up his Twitter criticisms of the NFL over the weekend, and continued into Monday -- praising NASCAR and its fans for not “disrespecting our Country.”