U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that it shows “total disrespect for our great country” that National Football League team owners have decided to not force players to stand for the playing of the national anthem before games.
More than 200 players, most of them black, at various times in recent weeks have protested racism and what they perceive as law enforcement agencies’ disparate treatment of minorities in the country as compared to whites by kneeling or sitting during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Trump has pushed the league, the most popular in the country, to force players to stand as a show of respect for the anthem, the flag and the country, although the number of players protesting has dwindled sharply. He directed Vice President Mike Pence to walk out of one recent game, when about a dozen players crouched on one knee during the anthem, which is played before almost all professional and top-level amateur sporting events in the U.S.
In response to Trump, Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, said, “We believe our players should stand for the national anthem. We all feel strongly about our flag, our country.”
But rather that mandating standing for the anthem, Goodell said league officials “are focusing on what we can do, to help make a difference in our communities,” to help players combat the wrongs they see in the criminal justice system regarding bail and mandatory sentencing reforms, in addition to improving education and the economy for poorer Americans.
Goodell said it is “the right thing to support our players in our communities.”
For years, the league has required teams to play the national anthem before their games, but has not required that players stand. League owners debated whether to change that policy this week as the protests took some of the focus off the actual playing of the games, but instead left it intact.