U.S. President Donald Trump says the owners of National Football League teams are reluctant to stop their players from taking a knee in protest during the national anthem because the owners are "afraid of their players."
Trump, who insists the protests should be banned throughout the league, made his remarks in an interview with TV show Fox & Friends that was conducted Wednesday and aired Thursday. The president said a "couple of owners" he has spoken with told him, "We are in a situation where we have to do something."
"I think they are afraid of their players, you want to know the truth, and I think it's disgraceful. And they've got to be tough and they've got to be smart."
A growing number of NFL players have joined the practice of taking a knee during the anthem to protest racial inequality.
Trump's criticism of those players started last Friday at a rally in the southeastern state of Alabama when he asked, "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, he's fired?"
Trump's remarks and a subsequent series of tweets about on the issue appear to have fueled the protests. A greater number of players knelt on one knee during the anthem than before, while players on many other teams locked arms in unity as they stood during the anthem.