HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (CBS/AP) — President Donald Trump has some advice for National Football League owners: Fire players who kneel during the national anthem. He’s also encouraging fans to walk out in protest.

Related: Patriots’ Devin McCourty Fires Back After President Trump’s Anthem Comments

And the president is bemoaning what he describes as a decline in violence in the sport.

“They’re ruining the game,” he said during a political rally in Alabama on Friday night that veered beyond politics.

Several athletes, including a handful of NFL players, have refused to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest of the treatment of blacks by police. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the trend last year when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, hasn’t been signed by an NFL team for this season.

Though he did not mention President Trump by name, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the comments in a Saturday statement.

The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. 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 of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.

In a statement of his own on Saturday, recently reelected NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith reacted to Trump’s comments, saying “We will never back down. We no longer can afford to stick to sports.”

Trump, who once owned the New Jersey Generals of the U.S. Football League, says those players are disrespecting the American flag and deserve to lose their jobs.

“That’s a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for,” Trump said, encouraging owners to act.

“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 to loud applause.

Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers kneel in protest during the national anthem prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2016. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Trump also predicted that any owner who followed the presidential encouragement would become “the most popular person in this country” — at least for a week.

Trump, who was in Alabama campaigning for Sen. Luther Strange, also blamed a drop in NFL ratings on the nation’s interest in “yours truly” as well as what he contended was a decline in violence in the game.

He said players are being thrown out for aggressive tackles, and it’s “not the same game.”

Over the past several seasons, the NFL and college football have increased penalties and enforcement for illegal hits to the head and for hitting defenseless players. A July report on 202 former football players found evidence of a debilitating brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them. The league has agreed to pay $1 billion to retired players who claimed it misled them about the concussion dangers of playing football.

During his campaign, Trump often expressed nostalgia for the “old days” — claiming, for example, that protesters at his rallies would have been carried out on stretchers back then. He recently suggested police officers should be rougher with criminals and shouldn’t protect their heads when pushing them into squad cars.

It’s also not the first time he’s raised the kneeling issue. Earlier this year he took credit for the fact that Kaepernick hadn’t been signed.

Television ratings for the NFL have been slipping since the beginning of the 2016 season. The league and observers have blamed a combination of factors, including competing coverage of last year’s presidential election, more viewers dropping cable television, fans’ discomfort with the reports of head trauma and the anthem protests.

Ratings have been down even more in the early 2017 season, though broadcasters and the league have blamed the hurricanes that hit Florida and Texas. Still, the NFL remains by far the most popular televised sport in the United States.

Trump said the anthem protest was the top reason NFL viewership had waned.

“You know what’s hurting the game?” he asked. “When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem,” he said.

Trump encouraged his supporters to pick up and leave the stadium next time they spot a player failing to stand.

“I guarantee things will stop,” he said.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Comments (92)
  1. Jimmie Meeks says:

    I will be boycotting all sports that allow this kneeling during the Anthem. I will also be laughing as I see the empty stadiums. Us America loving individuals have more power than we realize , hell we are the ones doing all the work and paying all the bills. Let your money start speaking for your beliefs in everything you do!

  2. Lou Cubbage says:

    100% right. I have never been to a football game, never watch football on TV, and have no jersey, hat, or socks, with any team logo.

  3. Josh Bond says:

    The heck with it. I’m done with the NFL. Seeing grown millionaire men act as entitled children, disrespecting the very flag that offers them their unparalleled freedom and wealth. I can’t in good conscience tune in anymore and if the other sports follow suit, I’m done with them too.

  4. No more NFL for me. F these sorry overpaid crybabies.

  5. Well said, Mr. President! I’m done with the NFL. DirectV, Dish Network, you’re not profiting from my viewership any longer, not until every single player and commissioner and volunteer and official stands tall during the playing of the National Anthem and the displaying of our National Flag. Yes, that same flag men bled and died for on the beaches of Utah, Omaha, and Iwo Jima all those many decades ago.

    Those brave men did not do what they did so that Colin Kaepernick could kneel down and attack the brave men and women who wear the uniform, to protect and serve the citizens of these United States.

  6. Bravo, Mr. President! It’s about time someone took this nonsense to task.

  7. Kevin Vaughn says:

    I STAND WITH MY PRESIDENT!!!!

  8. I spent a year in combat so that people with a lack of patriotism could kneel when ever they want.
    This is America we should respect it and be proud. If some people do not agree with us, they are the losers not us.

  9. Barry Jaeger says:

    It appears that “fans” aren’t even entering stadiums in droves anymore.
    Overpaid snowflake athletes complaining that the country is terrible, when the country is the people who used to be their fans… before they shot off their mouths.

  10. The NFL owners are learning who their fans are. The welfarers and crack dealers are not the ones buying those high-priced tickets.

  11. I cut my cable. TV has nothing I want to watch.

  12. FUNNY RANT “What’s wrong with this league” by America’s #1 NFL Picker https://youtu.be/Jnud1M7i18o

  13. Dreaded Parakeet says:

    www

  14. Dreaded Parakeet says:

    So Colin is not getting a check and soon the active players will not get the checks either. I blame Goodell. He had a chance to jump on this from the start last year but apparently didn’t have the nerve to do it. This is a bad business model for the NFL. How does a 9 billion dollar industry allows this to happen. No politics in the game simply means you remain neutral. Be inclusive, not stupid. They should have taken a page from MJ. Now the lefty loonies have infested the NFL and the NBA by association thanks to the hated Lebron running his mouth. My interest in football is gone. I never thought it possible, but totally gone.

  15. Dreaded Parakeet says:

    Here’s an idea. 1. Don’t play the anthem at games. Of course, the players will lose their platform to stick it to the people. Maybe they will drop their pants 10 minutes into the first quarter as a form of protest. 2. They stay in the locker room until the anthem is finished because apparently, they get triggered and the babies need a safe space. Roger better get down with the program because the horse and buggy man is gone and society didn’t fall apart. His league is making an Azz of itself and people are re-discovering there is more to life than the NBA and the NFL. The winner in this is the NHL, NASCAR, and college football.

  16. Get down on both knees and bow before us you pathetic racist blacks.

  17. President Trump is right!

    Enough said.

  18. Jake Redmond says:

    Disgusted when anyone kneels for the national anthem — something people died for so these sorry jerks can make millions playing a silly game, and gives them the right to protest. How stupid. I am done with NFL.

  19. For once I completely agree with Trump on this. I am sick of these whiny, overpaid, privileged brats in sports. The one thing I might question is Trump’s assertion I should leave the game. The fact is, since the brats began protesting the national anthem I have made a point of it not to support the NFL at all. I don’t even watch the games on TV.

  20. Joey Smith says:

    Here is a list of the cr@ppy companies with cr@ppy products the NFL has on contract:
    Anheuser-Busch, Campbell’s Soup Company, Castrol, Courtyard Marriott, Dannon, Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Papa John’s, Pepsi, Quaker

  21. Kim A Kirk says:

    I keep hearing the far left say people fought and died for the right of these players to disrespect our flag. B.S., my family members fought for your right to respect the flag. If you don’t like it, find another country to call home. Good riddance. Thank you President Trump!

  22. Troy Dynes says:

    I thought the pajama boys that support this type of pseudo protests only watch the grass fairies play soccer.

  23. Hal Briggs says:

    I approve of President Trump’s message.

  24. Steve Barker says:

    The NFL should have stopped this while they had a chance. This will now spin out of control and everyone will feel compelled to pick a side.

  25. At what point do you think Goodell and all the others who are defending these Unamerican protests will see what is going on with their games? How much of a drop in attendance and TV watching will it take to get their attention? Time will tell. I know I’ve stopped watching professional football and spent a part of my Saturday watching Alabama and Navy Football. Who needs the disrespect of the NFL?

  26. George Soros’s BLM has got the African Americans exhibiting lapdog obedience to a real ‘Natzi’ collaborator from WW2. SAD

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