The latest Republican effort to dismember Obamacare seemed on the brink of failure, the US was recovering from not one but two massive natural disasters, and the White House was weighing North Korea’s warning that it may test a bomb over the Pacific Ocean. But during a campaign rally in Alabama on Friday (Sept. 22), Donald Trump wanted to talk about football.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,” Trump said during a rally to support Alabama senator Luther Strange. “Some owner will do that. That owner, they don’t know it, they’ll be the most popular person for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
Without naming him, Trump was referring to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who drew national attention when he refused to stand up for the national anthem, saying “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
On Friday, Trump also derided new NFL rules designed to avoid head injuries.
“Today if you hit too hard—15 yards! Throw him out of the game! They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys, just really, beautiful tackle. Boom, 15 yards! The referee gets on television—his wife is sitting at home, she’s so proud of him. They’re ruining the game! They’re ruining the game. That’s what they want to do. They want to hit! They want to hit. It is hurting the game.”
A study published this summer found that 110 of 111 deceased former NFL players had evidence of permanent brain damage as a result of repeated head injuries, which can result in behavioral changes and memory loss.
This isn’t the first time Trump has gone after the NFL: During the campaign, he said the game had “become too soft” and called concussions “a little ding on the head.” It seems that to the US president, what’s wrong with American football is what’s wrong with America. It’s “disrespectful,” increasingly over-regulated, and—perhaps worst of all—its ratings are dropping (though in the case of the NFL, Trump credits himself for dominating the public’s attention).
NFL players were quick to decry the president’s latest comments. “When will people learn that fear won’t make someone sit down,” the Kansas City Chiefs’ Chris Conley tweeted. “It quite possibly will make more stand up for what they believe in.”
NFL commissioner Roger Godell said in a statement that “divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players.”