More than four months after the Super Bowl, President Trump continued to rebuke NFL players for their pregame protests, prolonging his culture war over his insistence that players stand for the national anthem. He was asked about the matter Friday morning during an impromptu appearance on “Fox & Friends,” suggesting the highly compensated athletes should stand during the anthem and stick to sports inside their venues.
“They’re all saying: ‘Oh, it has nothing to do with the flag. It’s the way we’ve been treated,’ ” he said. “In the meantime, they’re making $15 million a year. Look, I’m all for the athletes. I think it’s great. I love athletics. I love sports. But they shouldn’t get the politics involved.”
Trump suggested there’s a time and place for athletes to air social concerns — and that is away from the playing field.
“When you’re in a stadium and they broadcast that national anthem, you’ve got to stand, and you’ve got to be proud and you’ve got to have your hand up and you got to do everything that’s right,” he said. “Then go out and play really tough football. And once you leave that stadium, go and do whatever you want to do, run for office, do whatever.”
Trump has been the most prominent critic of players using the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality, first suggesting last fall that owners fire protesting players. He said last week there are better outlets for NFL players to voice their concerns, and he said he’s open to hearing recommendations from players about people deserving pardons or commuted sentences. It seemed to be an olive branch of sorts, and Trump cited his recent decision to commute the sentence of a woman serving a life term for a first-time drug offense at the urging of Kim Kardashian West, the reality TV star.
“I told the NFL players, indirectly, I said you have somebody that’s aggrieved — because they’re saying people are aggrieved — okay, let me know about it,” Trump said Friday. “I’ll look at it. If they’re aggrieved, I’ll pardon them. I’ll get them out.”
Trump said he hasn’t heard from any players.
“Maybe they’ve called the staff, but I have not personally heard from one,” he said. “Because I don’t know if it’s a real issue. I don’t think it’s a real issue.”
Trump did seem to acknowledge Friday, perhaps for the first time, that players haven’t been protesting the flag or the anthem. They’re protesting during the playing of the anthem, a distinction that has become a major point of contention between the players and their critics.
But by citing the salary issue, Trump implied that players are protesting personal mistreatment, rather than using their platform to speak for others. Trump seemed to suggest either that players earn too much money to be able to claim mistreatment, or that they earn too much money for their social concerns to be taken seriously. And his hyperbolic $15 million figure had little to do with actual NFL salaries.
More than 2,500 players will suit up for an NFL team next season. Less than 2 percent will earn the $15 million salary that Trump cited. Of that highest-paid group, only five players have protested by kneeling during the national anthem. The vast majority of NFL players earns far less — the league median is closer to $1 million per year — and with many careers lasting only a few seasons, most players retire with career earnings well short of $15 million.
Trump’s sparing with NFL players returned to the headlines earlier this month when he disinvited the Philadelphia Eagles from a planned White House celebration. The decision came after some Eagles players said they would skip the ceremony to protest the president and his rhetoric.
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