Donald Trump has lashed out at the NFL over players who protest the national anthem.
During an Alabama rally in support of Sen. Luther Strange, Trump launched into a tirade over NFL players who kneel during the anthem, suggesting that they should be fired.
The Guardian reports that Trump told the audience gathered at the rally, "Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a b---h off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!'"
The former reality star added, "You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, 'That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.' And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country."
However, the head of the NFL Players Association, the union that represents professional football players, stated that the union "will never back down" from supporting the rights of every player who wishes to protest.
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement, "Whether or not [NFL commissioner] Roger [Goodell] and the owners will speak for themselves about their views on player rights and their commitment to player safety remains to be seen. This union, however, will never back down when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of our players as citizens as well as their safety as men who compete in a game that exposes them to great risks."
The last line of Smith's statement refers to additional comments Trump made during the rally in Alabama, in which he blamed the NFL's ratings dip on recent changes made for the safety of players.
The NFL has been in the spotlight after it was revealed that former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence for murder, suffered from an advanced stage of CTE, a progressive degenerative brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head. Hernandez killed himself while in prison.
"The NFL ratings are down massively,” Trump said. “Now the number one reason happens to be they like watching what’s happening ... with yours truly. They like what’s happening. Because you know today if you hit too hard: Fifteen yards! Throw him out of the game! They’re ruining the game! That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game."
Various players have spoken out against Trumps statements, including Minnesota Vikings star Bishop Sankey and former NFL player Husain Abdullah.
Trump's protest comments specifically take aim at Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49er whose decision to protest the national anthem and shine a light on racial inequality and systemic injustice sparked a movement.
Kaepernick has received tons of support from fans, celebrities, politicians, and other NFL players.