Saturday 26 May 2018

NFL protests 'nothing to do with race', claims president

Buffalo Bills players take a knee during the anthem prior to their NFL game on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images
Buffalo Bills players take a knee during the anthem prior to their NFL game on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images

Julie Allen

Donald Trump has insisted that a wave of protests held by National Football League (NFL) players during the US anthem before games had "nothing to do with race".

The US president escalated his feud with American football after players staged their biggest anti-racism protest yet at London's Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

The protest, which was followed by more demonstrations in America, came hours after Mr Trump called for a boycott of the NFL as he vented his fury on Twitter throughout the day.

In a direct challenge to Mr Trump, two dozen players from the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars went down on bended knee as the US national anthem was played while others, including the Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who is Muslim, stood and locked arms.

The protest came as other team owners condemned Mr Trump's comments as "contrary to the founding principles of our country".

Players throughout America's most popular sport took a defiant stance following the protest at Wembley, 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 on 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 line-up of the Oakland Raiders team sat on their bench ahead of their game with the Washington Redskins.

The row began last year when Kaepernick began refusing to stand for the 'Star-Spangled Banner' before games in protest at shootings of black people by white police officers.

A handful of other players have since followed suit.

Before boarding Air Force One in New Jersey to head back to Washington, Mr Trump said "the owners should do something about it".

"We have a great country. We have great people representing our country, especially our soldiers and first responders. They can be treated with respect," he said. "When you get on your knee and you don't respect the American flag or the anthem that is not being treated with respect... This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country, and respect for our flag."

Earlier, Mr Trump had called for a boycott of the sport and for players who didn't stand to be fired by their teams.

He wrote on Twitter: "If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our flag and country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend! NFL attendance and ratings are way down. Boring games yes but many stay away because they love our country. League should back US."

He responded to the latest protests, saying on Twitter: "Great solidarity for our national anthem and for our country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable."

NFL ratings declined on Sunday, though it was unclear whether the drop was related to Mr Trump's call for fans to boycott the games. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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