President Donald Trump vocalized his support for the National Football League’s new rule that requires players to stand during the national anthem, telling Fox News that perhaps the players who refuse to abide “shouldn’t be in the country.”
The NFL approved the policy on Wednesday in a push to end kneeling during the anthem, which Colin Kaepernick began in 2016 football season as a silent protest in the face of rising racial violence and police brutality. The players not on board will have to stay in the locker room.
Trump praised the league for the new rule that would stop national anthem protests before they happen, saying NFL owners did the right thing.
“I don’t think people should be staying in locker rooms,” Trump told Fox News. “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing. You shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
Trump has derided players and team owners for the kneeling protests on multiple occasions, sparking a debate as to whether the protests were disrespectful of the U.S. military or an expression of First Amendment rights.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the controversy in a statement after the new rule was announced that “on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic.”
At an Alabama rally in September, Trump called players who kneeled a “son of a bitch” and encouraged fans to boycott games when the protests occurred. The president has continued to bring up the issue and alluded to it while welcoming NASCAR Champion Martin Truex Jr. to the White House on Monday.
“And I will tell you one thing I know about NASCAR: They do indeed, Brian, stand for the playing of the national anthem, right?” Trump said on Monday. “They do indeed.”
Pence, who left an Indianapolis Colts game after players kneeled last year, posted a screenshot of the news and captioned it ”#winning” on Twitter. Trump Jr. posted a similar tweet on Wednesday captioning an AP article with “STILL NOT SICK OF #WINNING!!!!”
Despite the Trump administration’s celebrations on Twitter, however, the rule may not be the end of kneeling protests.
The NFL Player’s Association, which has supported the players’ right to protest, issued a release on Wednesday stating it would review the new rule and challenge any aspect inconsistent with its collective bargaining agreement.
“The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this ‘policy,’ the statement said. “NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about.”
“The NFL is about 70% black,” tweeted Dominque Hamilton, a former University of Missouri football player. “If united and didn’t take the field at all, it would upset a lot of people and a lot of executives.”