Trump tirades inspire more athletes to join US anthem protest

The US President called called for NFL players who protest during the US national anthem to be fired

Trump tirades inspire more athletes to join US anthem protest

US President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Alabama, 22-09-2017. Image: AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File

Updated: 16:00

Donald Trump has doubled down on his criticism of NFL players who kneel during the US national anthem, declaring: "Tell them to stand."

The US President hit out at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who said Mr Trump's remarks about players who kneel during The Star-Spangled Banner were "divisive" and show an "unfortunate lack of respect."

Mr Trump wrote on Twitter: "Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country. Tell them to stand."

And the President has also got involved in a spat with NBA champions, The Golden State Warriors, after announcing that star player Stephen Curry would not be welcome at the White House for the traditional visit made by championship teams.

In response, NBA legend LeBron James called Mr Trump a "bum."

This afternoon, the US President took the dispute further, urging fans to stop going to games "until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country."

In tweets posted on Sunday morning, the US President told fans if they boycott matches "you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!"

He added: "...NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back US."

Mr Trump's latest criticisms of the protest brought an immediate response at Wembley Stadium, which hosted the NFL game between the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars, as at least a dozen players knelt during the national anthem.

Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel in protest during the national anthem before the NFL International Series match at Wembley Stadium, London, 23-09-2017. Image: Simon Cooper/PA Wire/PA Images

Baltimore Ravens players kneel down during the US national anthem before an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London, 24-09-2017. Image: AP Photo/Matt Dunham

That followed the intervention of the music legend Stevie Wonder, who became the biggest single name to back the growing movement.

As he took the stage for the Global Citizen Festival, aimed at eliminating poverty, the blind soul legend knelt, joining the protest against racial injustice started by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The 67-year-old told the crowd: "Tonight, I'm taking a knee for America."

Social injustice

The latest controversy of Mr Trump's eight-month presidency was sparked on Friday night, when he suggested during a rally in Alabama that NFL owners should sack players who choose not to stand during the national anthem.

Since the start of last season, several NFL stars have either knelt, sat or raised fists during the anthem to protest against police treatment of people of colour and social injustice.

During last week's round of games, four players sat or knelt during the anthem and two raised their fists, while others stood by the protesters in support.

Inappropriate and inoffensive

Mr Trump has enjoyed strong support from many NFL owners - at least seven of them have donated $1m (£740,000) each to his inaugural committee - but several of them spoke out against his comments.

New York Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch said they were inappropriate and offensive, while Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross - who has supported players who have knelt - said the country "needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness."

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York did not mince his words, saying Mr Trump's statement was "callous."

Seattle Seahawks star Richard Sherman said the President's behaviour is "unacceptable and needs to be addressed."

Detroit Lions player Eric Ebron wrote on Twitter: "Does anyone tell Trump to stick to politics, like they tell us to stick to sports? Smh."

With 14 NFL games taking place on Sunday, including an early kickoff at London's Wembley Stadium, the actions of players during the anthem will be watched closely.