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Patriots owner criticizes friend Trump over ‘disappointing’ NFL remarks

Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images
Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft criticized President Trump, whom he has previously called a “very good friend,” saying he is “deeply disappointed” in Trump’s comments condemning NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem.

“There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics,” Kraft said in a statement tweeted by the Patriots.

Statement from #Patriots Chairman & CEO Robert Kraft: pic.twitter.com/f5DJeK0Woj

— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 24, 2017

“I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal,” the statement said.

The public disagreement comes only months after the Patriots made a formal visit to the White House in April during which Kraft called Trump a “very good friend.”

Kraft’s comments came shortly after President Trump on Sunday morning turned his attention to NFL fans in his feud with the league over players who kneel in protest during the national anthem, saying many people “stay away” from the games “because they love our country.”

The president also suggested that if fans refuse to go to games due to the protests, “you will see change fast.”

…NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017

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!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017

Trump’s tweets Sunday came just a couple of hours before a series of NFL games scheduled for the day began.

Earlier, on Saturday night, the president slammed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for speaking out against Trump’s condemnation of kneeling players.

Goodell is “trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country,” Trump tweeted.

Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.Tell them to stand!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017

Goodell did not mention the president by name in his statement earlier today.

“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”

NFL players across the league and their union — and even some team officials — were more direct in their response to Trump’s criticism Friday night of the handful of NFL players who have kneeled or sat on the bench during the national anthem performed before games over the past two seasons. The practice was most famously done by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick, who is currently unsigned, began kneeling in the preseason in 2016 as a sign of protest over the treatment of blacks in the U.S.

Trump, speaking at a rally in Alabama on Friday, said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of the NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now?'”

The president of the NFL Players Union, which represents current and former players, released a statement on Saturday: “The balance between the rights of every citizen in our great country gets crossed when someone is told to just ‘shut up and play.'”

Union President DeMaurice Smith acknowledged in his statement that “the peaceful demonstrations by some of our players” haven’t been universally supported, but “have generated a wide array of responses.”

But, he added, “Those opinions are protected speech and a freedom that has been paid for by the sacrifice of men and women throughout history … No man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights.”

Hours later Trump fired back at his critics, tweeting that it was a “privilege” for athletes to earn a lucrative career in professional sports.

If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017

…our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York weighed in Saturday afternoon, called the presiden’ts comments “callous and offensive” and “contradictory to this great country stands for”

pic.twitter.com/nrx16iBlkw

— Jed York (@JedYork) September 23, 2017

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross did not refer to the president directly, but said in a statement the country “needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness.”

Statement from Miami Dolphins Owner and Founder of Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) Stephen Ross. pic.twitter.com/6W3mXwJO6M

— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) September 23, 2017

Reaction to Trump’s comments on social media by players were largely negative:

Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall

Wow https://t.co/enJBSLTTtY

— Brandon Marshall (@BMarshh54) September 23, 2017

Lions tight end Eric Ebron

Does anyone tell trump to stick to politics, like they tell us to stick to sports? Smh.

— Eric Ebron (@Ebron85) September 23, 2017

Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis

Trump!! ????????????????????????????

— Thomas Davis (@ThomasDavisSDTM) September 23, 2017

Redskins linebacker Zach Brown

Trump stay in ur place… football have nothing to do wit u smh

— Zach Brown (@ZachBrown_55) September 23, 2017

Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews (a college teammate of Kaepernick)

I’m a full supporter of the Flag & This country! Trust Me! But this can’t be real! https://t.co/GAPkZPB8hz

— Rishard Matthews (@_RMatthews) September 23, 2017

Buccaneers safety T.J. Ward

Smh! Gives more reason https://t.co/TyVCJgQK0L

— T.J. Ward (@BossWard43) September 23, 2017

Vikings running back Bishop Sankey

It’s a shame and disgrace when you have the President of the US calling citizens of the country sons of a bitches.

— Bishop Sankey (@BishopSankey) September 23, 2017

Former Texans running back Arian Foster

cloth has more value than people. apparently. https://t.co/PZjeRA9861

— feeno (@ArianFoster) September 23, 2017

Kaepernick did not respond to the Trump’s comments in the hours following the speech by Trump.

Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett recently reignited the debate when he criticized Las Vegas police for racial profiling following an accidental arrest last month.

Bennett was detained by police outside a Las Vegas casino on Aug. 27 after police responded to a report of gunfire in the area. Video obtained by TMZ of the incident shows an officer yelling at Bennett and pointing his gun at him while he is handcuffed. He was later let go by police.

Bennett has begun sitting on the bench during the national anthem in protest of police violence.

President Trump is no stranger to the National Football League. In February, he was seen dining with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, and in January just before his inauguration, the president singled out Kraft at a dinner.

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