U.S. President Donald Trump attacked the country's most popular sports league, the National Football League, on Tuesday for "getting massive tax breaks," even though the league gave up its federal tax-exempt status two years ago.
Trump has been waging a verbal war against more than 200 NFL players, most of them African-American, who at recent games have knelt during the playing of the national anthem in protest against racism in the U.S. and what they see as law enforcement agencies' disparate treatment of minorities compared to that of whites.
In a Twitter comment, Trump said, "Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!"
The NFL for years controversially held a federal tax-exempt status, which saved the league large sums of money, but voluntarily relinquished that status in 2015.
Many teams in the league, however, are receiving substantial state and local government tax breaks for keeping their teams in the cities where they play their games, rather than move elsewhere, and to build mammoth stadiums at taxpayer expense. But those are local agreements and not decisions Trump and the federal government could end.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged Trump's federal taxation remark no longer applies to the NFL, but said it is "well documented" that teams get tax subsidies "on a variety of different levels" related to stadium construction and their business operations.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said league officials would soon discuss the national anthem protests, but made it clear in a letter to all 32 teams that the league wants players to stand as the anthem is played. Sanders said the White House would support such a requirement, if the league imposes it.
Trump's NFL remark came two days after Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an NFL game in his home state of Indiana after about a dozen San Francisco 49er players took a knee while the "Star Spangled Banner" was played before their game with the Indianapolis Colts.
Pence said he left the game saying Trump "and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag, or our national anthem."
Later, Trump tweeted that he had asked Pence "to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and Second Lady" Karen Pence.
The NFL has said the protesting players are entitled to exercise their constitutional right of freedom of speech. But one prominent team owner, Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, has now announced that any of his players who kneel during the national anthem will be benched and kept out of the team's games.