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Richard Petty, other NASCAR owners decry protests, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. offers support

Richard Petty has a zero-tolerance policy toward anthem protests. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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While the NFL was roiled Sunday with protests during the national anthem, including numerous players taking a knee and entire teams staying off the field, the scene was different at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, site of this week’s NASCAR action. No drivers or other team members were seen demonstrating in any way, and a prominent team owner said he would fire anyone who did so.

Richard Petty, the legendary former driver who owns a team bearing his name, said (via the AP), “Anybody that don’t stand up for the anthem ought to be out of the country. Period. What got ’em where they’re at? The United States.”

When asked if a Richard Petty Motorsports team member who protested during the anthem would be fired, Petty replied, “You’re right.”

Richard Childress, another NASCAR owner, said Sunday of anyone on his team protesting, “It’ll get you a ride on a Greyhound bus.”

But Monday, one of the sport’s most popular drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr., quoted John F. Kennedy in offering support for peaceful protests.

President Trump angered many NFL players and sparked statements of concern by football teams and officials Friday when he said at a rally, “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, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’ ”

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Trump followed that up Saturday with tweets in which he said, “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. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

Early Sunday morning, Trump tweeted, “If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!” After several NFL games had begun, with many of them marked by players linking arms during the anthem, he tweeted, “Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable.”

Childress said he told his team that “anybody that works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people gave their lives for it. This is America.”

An official with Team Penske told USA Today that his squad had no specific policy on anthem protests, but he added that “it’s an issue we’ve never faced and don’t anticipate facing.”

Team owner Chip Ganassi took a different approach, saying he liked “Mike Tomlin’s answer,” referring to the Steelers’ coach. Pittsburgh was among the teams that did not appear on the sideline during the anthem, and Tomlin said his players did not want to appear non-unified in their approaches to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“We’re not going to let divisive times or divisive individuals affect our agenda,” Tomlin said. “This collection of men, we’re chasing something here in 2017, and we’re not going to play politics. … We’re not participating in the anthem today, not to be disrespectful for the anthem, to remove ourselves from the circumstance. People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels a need to do something, he shouldn’t be separated from his teammate who chooses not to. So we’re not participating today.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement Saturday supporting his players and condemning Trump’s remarks from Friday. “Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players,” Goodell said, “and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”

In a reply Saturday, Trump tweeted that Goodell was attempting to “justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.” He added, “Tell them to stand!”

On Monday, Trump praised “NASCAR and its supporters and fans,” saying on Twitter, “They won’t put up with disrespecting our Country or our Flag – they said it loud and clear!”

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