President Donald Trump spoke to reporters on Sunday after a weekend of criticizing NFL players for protesting during the National Anthem.
“This has nothing to do with race,” Trump said as reporters pressed him about his remarks. “I never said anything about race. This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.”
Trump made his remarks in an impromptu press conference on the tarmac before leaving New Jersey to return to Washington D.C.
He repeated his belief that NFL owners should do something about the protests, which he argued was disrespectful to the flag and to the United States.
“When you get on your knee and you don’t respect the American flag or the anthem, that’s not being treated with respect,” he said.
After reporters brought up New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s criticism of his remarks, Trump dismissed them.
“Look, that’s okay. He has to take his ideas and go with what he wants,” he said, reminding reporters that Kraft gave him a Super Bowl ring during their visit to the White House.
The president kicked off the latest round of controversy after he said he wished NFL owners would fire athletes taking a knee during the National Anthem.
“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 is fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said on Friday.
His remarks prompted additional protests from players on the field as many NFL team owners condemned his statements.
“Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday after more players joined their teammates by kneeling during the National Anthem.
Other players remained standing during the National Anthem, including lone Pittsburgh Steelers player Alejandro Villanueva, who served 3 tours in Afghanistan with Army while the rest of his teammates remained in the locker room.