NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell criticized President Donald Trump’s Friday remarks on players who protest during the playing of the national anthem.
In a statement released Saturday morning, Goodell called Trump’s comments “divisive” and said they show he does respect the NFL or its players.
“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture,” the statement read. “There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month.”
“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all if our players and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communiques,” the statement added.
Goodell’s statement was in response to Trump’s comments at a Friday rally in Alabama for Republican Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and who is now running in a special election to keep that seat.
Trump said that he and Strange “are proud of our country. We respect our flag.”
He suggested NFL owners should boot players who protest the national anthem off their team.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!” Trump said, using his catchphrase from his time on the NBC reality program The Apprentice.
Trump also argued the protests are the main reason behind a decline in NFL ratings.
NFL ratings were down about 8 percent last year. The national anthem protests were the reason most commonly cited in a poll from J.D. Power, which showed 26 percent of respondents who watched fewer NFL games in the 2016 season than in the previous year said that was why they tuned out.
But many players refuse to back down from the protests.
“We will never back down. We no longer can afford to stick to sports,” said DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association
Trump also said that in addition to the protests, the NFL’s strict officiating is “ruining the game.”