San Francisco 49ers players Eric Reid (35) and Colin Kaepernick (7) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sept. 12, 2016. (Associated Press)
President Donald Trump’s criticism of NFL players who protest by kneeling during the national anthem drew a lot of reaction Saturday from players, coaches, team owners and fans.
It also sparked speculation on whether the league or its players would stage responses before or during Sunday’s slate of NFL games. The question became more complicated Saturday, when the White House declared Sunday to be Gold Star Mother's and Family's Day, honoring families of fallen servicemembers.
Most notably, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and several team owners – including those from the Giants, 49ers, Dolphins and Packers – issued statements Saturday in support of the league’s players and their right to express their political views.
“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players,” Goodell said in a statement.
“Comments like we heard last night from the president are inappropriate, offensive and divisive,” Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch said in a joint statement Saturday, the New York Post reported. “We are proud of our players, the vast majority of whom use their NFL platform to make a positive difference in our society.”
"Our country needs unifying leadership right now, not more diviseness," Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the hashtag #TakeAKnee and its variants became popular with many social media users.
But Trump wasn’t backing down from his comments made during a rally Friday in Huntsville, Ala., in which he said:
“We’re proud of our country. We respect our flag. 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.”
In a tweet Saturday afternoon, Trump responded directly to the NFL commissioner.
“Roger Goodell of the NFL just put out a statement trying to justify total disrespect certain players show to our country,” Trump tweeted. “Tell them to stand!”
Others, of course, have voiced support for the president's position.
In August, NFL legend Jim Brown said kneeling during the anthem was the wrong way to protest.
"I'm an American. I don't desecrate my flag and my national anthem," Brown said. "I'm not gonna do anything against the flag and national anthem."
Jeanine Pirro, host of “Justice with Judge Jeanine” on Fox News Channel, had some words for Goodell on her program Saturday night.
“Instead of taking sides against the national anthem, maybe you ought to think about your stockholders, your investors,” Pirro said.
“The same liberals who want to protect the constitutional right of people like Colin Kaepernick to symbolically reject America by taking a knee were the ones quick to criticize Tim Tebow for bending a knee to pray and thank God on the field," Pirro added.
The debate has stemmed from former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest from last season, in which he declined to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a protest against police shootings of African-Americans.
Kaepernick and the 49ers parted ways after last season, and the quarterback has remained unsigned by any NFL team ever since – prompting many commentators and fans to charge that Kaepernick is being blackballed by the league.
Other players – in the NFL and other sports leagues – have sporadically staged similar protests in solidarity with Kaepernick. On Saturday, Bruce Maxwell of baseball’s Oakland A’s kneeled during the national anthem.
Pitcher CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees said he would decline an invitation to the White House if he were to receive one, the New York Daily News reported.
Trump has been directly embroiled in disputes with some of those other sports as well – most notably pro basketball.
The president recently withdrew a White House invitation from NBA star Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, who were expected to celebrate last season’s championship in a visit to Washington, D.C.
College basketball’s champions, the North Carolina Tar Heels, said they would not attend a White House ceremony to recognize their NCAA title, the Washington Post reported.
Fox News’ Alex Pappas and the Associated Press contributed to this story.