BOSTON (CBS) — Patriots safety Devin McCourty has been one of the NFL players at the forefront of the continued war of words between the league and President Donald Trump. But McCourty says the players never wanted it that way.
Trump drew the ire of owners and players across the league last weekend, when he criticized players who had been kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and injustice. He said in part during a speech at a rally in Alabama: “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. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!'”
NFL players and owners across the league responded by releasing statements and exercising various forms of protest during national anthems last Sunday. The president has continued to give responses of his own via his Twitter account and recent interviews.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, McCourty acknowledged that the issue of the anthem protests has unintentionally turned into a battle between the league and Trump. But the Patriots safety doesn’t want the protesting players’ actual message to get lost in that.
“I think the biggest thing as players – we’ve got to keep in the forefront of what we want to get. The inequality, the injustice. I think that’s what’s important. We’ve got to make sure this whole thing doesn’t turn into ‘The NFL vs. Donald Trump’,” said McCourty.” Obviously [Trump] is whatever he is. We can probably have an hour of trying to describe that and everything he is. But as players, we have an agenda of what we think can be done better and we’re tying to use our platform, and I think we have to stick to that.
“It’s not really this war of, ‘Does the NFL have our backs’ and ‘Let’s battle Trump’. I don’t think it’s that, but I do think they’re very willing to help us get some of these things going and hopefully that is what happens out of all of this.”
McCourty declined to get into details of what was discussed in a meeting between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and a group of 20-30 players and owners, which included Patriots owner Robert Kraft as well as McCourty and special teamer Matthew Slater. McCourty described the meeting as a “great situation and an opportunity that we all could sit there and just talk and throw everything out there,” adding that “both sides got to walk away with an understanding of how each other felt.”
It’s unclear how the NFL will handle the national anthem protest situation moving forward, but the Patriots will reportedly stand together as a team during the anthem before Sunday’s game against the Panthers in Foxboro.