The NFL released a statement Saturday denouncing “divisive comments” that demonstrate a “lack of respect” for the league and its players, a day after President Donald Trump insulted players who protest during the national anthem and said they should be fired.
The league’s statement didn’t refer by name to Trump, who during a campaign rally in Alabama on Friday bashed “son of a bitch” players who take a knee during the national anthem in protest of social injustices.
Trump’s comments came during a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, where he was campaigning for Sen. Luther Strange (R).
“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, he’s fired’?” the president said.
He also said fans watching a game where that happens should leave.
Many individual football stars have been scathingly direct in their criticisms of the president’s comments. DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said in a statement that the union would “never back down when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of our players.”
We will never back down. We no longer can afford to stick to sports. pic.twitter.com/Ec3Bc4qt9h— DeMaurice Smith (@DeSmithNFLPA) September 23, 2017
The practice of players taking a knee during the anthem gained momentum last year, after Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, did so at a preseason game.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick’s actions immediately incited controversy, and some have suggested his outspoken political views are the reason he hasn’t signed with a new team. Still, other players in the league — mostly men of color — have followed his example of quiet protest.
NFL owners gave a combined $7.25 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, according to The Daily Beast.
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.