President Donald Trump seems to be obsessed. The commander in chief woke up Sunday morning with a hankering to fire off a series of tweets once again calling for fans to boycott the NFL “until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country.” For those keeping count that marked the third day in a row the president criticized players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest police violence. It seemed to be a taunt that will assure any protests that were already planned for today would suddenly become much larger.
The defiance was clear in the first NFL game of the day, where players displayed a strong sense of unity as about two dozen Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars players took a knee and pretty much all the rest linked arms in solidarity. Among those joining the protest in London was Ravens Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, who also took a knee. And it wasn’t just the players who displayed unity. Ravens coach John Harbaugh, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone, and Jaguars owner Shad Khan locked arms with the players during the national anthem.
The players who were kneeling then stood for “God Save the Queen,” Britain’s national anthem, although the players and coaches remained locked arm-in-arm.
On Facebook, the Jaguars published a photo with Khan at the center and a simple message: “Unity.”
The owner of the Ravens, Steve Bisciotti, also expressed support for the protesters through a statement released on Twitter during the first quarter of the game. “We recognize our players’ influence,” he said. “We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent. All voices need to be heard. That’s democracy in its highest form.”
The support from the owners continues the largely negative reaction to Trump’s initial statement on Friday night during a rally in Alabama. Even some who have supported Trump in the past expressed their opposition to the president, including Patriots CEO and Chairman Robert Kraft, who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration. “I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday,” Kraft said. “I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities.”
Trump’s three-day marathon of NFL criticism began Friday night, when he harshly criticized owners for tolerating players who he said disrespect the United States by failing to stand up for 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, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said.
That statement was met with a chorus of criticism from the sports world but the commander in chief doubled down on Saturday through Twitter: “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” He also directly attacked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his (very mild) criticism of Trump earlier in the day. “Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country,” Trump wrote. “Tell them to stand!”