Washington (AFP) – US President Donald Trump on Sunday urged fans to boycott National Football League games to pressure the league to fire or suspend players who show disrespect for “Flag and Country.”
Trump’s latest Twitter salvo was the latest blow in an escalating war of words with some of professional sports’ biggest stars over his condemnation of NFL players protesting the national anthem.
“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag and Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!” he said.
“NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.,” he said.
The row began on Friday at a Republican rally in Alabama when Trump attacked activist National Football League players — mostly African Americans — as “sons of bitches” for kneeling or sitting during renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
On the same day, basketball star Stephen Curry, the top player for California’s Golden State Warriors, said he would not attend a traditional White House reception honoring the winning basketball team.
Several hours later, Trump hit back with an early-morning Twitter salvo.
– ‘You bum’ –
“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” he wrote.
Trump’s outburst drew a stinging response from across the NBA, with Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James among the first to weigh in.
“U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going!” James wrote on Twitter. “So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up.”
The protests began last year when quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers refused to stand for the anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality.
Several more players have since joined in, nearly all of them black.
Kaepernick, who was unable to land a job with a team this season, has attracted support from his peers but also some backlash.
The 29-year-old said he started his protests because he wanted to spark a nationwide debate on racial injustice and police brutality.