Protests grip NFL after Trump urges fan boycott

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LOS ANGELES: A wave of protests swept across the National Football League on Sunday as President Donald Trump escalated his feud with players who kneel during the US national anthem to draw attention to racial injustice.

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Trump ignited a firestorm of criticism after comments on Friday in which he described NFL players who chose to take a knee through renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as “sons of bitches” who should be fired.

The US leader doubled down on those remarks in an early morning tweet, urging fans to boycott the NFL as long as the protests continued.

“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!” Trump wrote.

THEY KNEEL Buffalo Bills players kneel during the American National anthem before an NFL game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday (Monday in Manila) at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York. AFP PHOTO

Yet players throughout America’s most popular sport took a defiant stance just hours later, kneeling, linking arms or raising clenched fists during the anthem.

More than 150 players could be seen kneeling or sitting in the 14 games that took place Sunday, easily the largest such demonstration since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first began protesting in 2016.

One of the biggest protests took place in the nation’s capital, where almost the entire lineup of the Oakland Raiders team sat on their bench ahead of their game with the Washington Redskins.

A day of demonstrations began at the London game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens at Wembley Stadium, where a large number of players from both teams knelt.

In Nashville, neither the Seattle Seahawks nor the Tennessee Titans took to the field to observe the national anthem.

“We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of this color in this country,” Seattle players said in a statement just prior to kickoff.

‘Deeply disappointed’
In Foxborough, around 15 members of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots took a knee during the anthem.

Star quarterback Tom Brady stood but linked arms with his teammates. Reports said the protests were greeted with scattered boos as some fans chanted “Stand up!”

Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks, who scored the game-winning touchdown, later explained his decision to kneel, rejecting accusations it was unpatriotic.

“A lot of people think we’re disrespecting the flag and the military, but my father was a marine, my uncle was a marine, family fought in the Vietnam war—I have the utmost respect for the men and women that fight for our freedom,” Cooks told reporters.

In Chicago, the Pittsburgh Steelers chose to remain in their locker room during the anthem ahead of their clash with the Bears.

Buffalo Bills star Lesean McCoy, who stretched on the turf during the anthem, said: “I can’t stand and support something where the leader of our country is acting like a jerk.”

In Detroit, meanwhile, the singer of the national anthem Rico LaVelle dramatically dropped to his knee at the end of his rendition. At least eight Detroit Lions players were seen kneeling during the anthem while others linked arms.

Trump responded to the protests on Twitter. “Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable,” he wrote.

In subsequent remarks to reporters, Trump denied there was a racial dimension to his criticism of activist athletes, most of whom are black.

“This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag,” Trump said.

AFP

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