President Donald Trump went after players protesting in the National Football League during his speech Friday in Alabama to campaign for Sen. Luther Strange.
While Trump took the stage in Huntsville to ostensibly rally support for Strange in his upcoming Republican primary, his speech veered away from politics to attack NFL players who protest during the national anthem.
Last year, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was booed for taking a knee during the national anthem while his team played the San Diego Chargers. Kaepernick said the silent protest was meant to bring awareness to injustices against minorities in the United States. It has been a source of controversy ever since.
Kaepernick remains a free agent, and many believe that his inability to land with a new team is due to his political stance. But inspired by his example, many other NFL players have replicated his actions.
But Trump blasted that form of protest during his speech. “That’s a total disrespect of our heritage,” the president told the crowd. “That’s a total disrespect of everything we stand for.”
Trump told the audience that anyone attending NFL games should leave if they see a player protesting during the anthem and that players should be fired for the action.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired?’” Trump said.
The majority of players protesting during games have been players of color, using their platforms in an attempt to highlight racial injustice and police brutality.
This isn’t the first time Trump has taken shots at Kaepernick. Trump has tweeted a few times about the athlete and even took credit for Kaepernick’s inability to get a job in the league after his protests.
Nonetheless, Kaepernick’s message appears to have resonated elsewhere in sports.
Earlier this year, several New England Patriots players refused to attend the White House, a traditional visit for teams who win sports championships. Some of the players who stayed away said that Trump displayed racist rhetoric throughout his campaign and that they wouldn’t feel accepted in the White House.
And in professional basketball, not long before the Alabama rally, Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry announced that he wouldn’t attend the teams’ own visit to the White House, USA Today reported.
″(Athletes are) all trying to do what we can,” Curry said. “We’re using our platforms, using our opportunities to shed light on that, so that’s kind of where I stand on it. I don’t think us not going to the White House is going to miraculously make everything better, but this is my opportunity to voice that.”
Bernice King, daughter of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., took to Twitter on Friday night to denounce Trump’s speech.
“A nation is people, not a symbol,” King wrote. “A protest for the eradication of racism that violates millions of those people is not disrespect.”