President Donald Trump escalated his criticism of athletes who don’t stand for the national anthem on Thursday, claiming that some NFL team owners are actually “afraid of their players.”
“I have so many friends that are owners and they’re in a box,” Trump told Fox News. “I’ve spoken to a couple of them they said we are in a situation where we have to do something. I think they’re afraid of their players, it’s disgraceful.”
Trump sparked the NFL controversy last week in Alabama, when he called any player who behaves disrespectfully during the anthem a “son of a bitch” who deserves to be fired.
Bob Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and a close friend of Trump’s ― no doubt one of those Trump hinted at in his Fox News interview on Thursday ― lambasted the president’s comments on the anthem protests. Kraft said he was “deeply disappointed by the tone,” of his friend’s remarks. “Our players are intelligent, thoughtful, and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully effect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”
New York Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch dubbed Trump’s words “inappropriate, offensive and divisive.” 49ers CEO Jed York slammed them as “callous and offensive” and lauded his players’ commitment to “social justice.”
Many other team owners released statements standing by their players’ commitments to social justice and freedom to demonstrate.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones joined his team in taking a knee before the anthem on Monday night, but stood while the anthem played. Trump said on Tuesday that Jones assured him the team would continue to stand for the pregame ritual.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Jed York lauded his players’ commitment to “social injustice.” It’s since been changed to “social justice.”
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.