President Donald Trump criticized NFL players who lodge protests during the pregame national anthem, saying Friday night that he wished those players would be released and encouraging fans who are offended to walk out of stadiums.
Speaking at a political rally in Huntsville, Alabama, Trump said: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now. Out. He’s fired! He’s fired!”
Trump said the protests are “hurting the game.”
Then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the wave of protests when he sat during the national anthem before a preseason game in August 2016. During the regular season, Kaepernick modified his protest and knelt during the anthem.
Trump didn’t mention Kaepernick or any other NFL player specifically during the speech.
Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers during the offseason. He has not been signed by a new team since then. Several players have continued to protest during the anthem this season.
“The only thing you could do better,” Trump said, “is if you see it, even if it’s just one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway.”
Trump went on to say referees are “ruining the game” by calling 15-yard penalties for “beautiful” tackles. He also said that NFL ratings are down “massively, massively,” because people prefer watching him. NFL ratings dropped 8 percent in 2016 compared with 2015.
An NFL spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what Trump said.