Detroit Lions players took to social media this weekend to respond after President Donald Trump criticized NFL players who protest during the playing of the national anthem -- and encouraged owners to "fire" players who do.
"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now? Out. He's fired. He's fired!'" Trump said.
Trump's comments came during a rally in Huntsville, Ala. Friday night, and immediately earned condemnation from players across the league, including among the Lions.
Tight end Eric Ebron tweeted Friday, "Does anyone tell trump to stick to politics, like they tell us to stick to sports? Smh."
Does anyone tell trump to stick to politics, like they tell us to stick to sports? Smh.— Eric Ebron (@Ebron85) September 23, 2017
Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin retweeted a tweet from activist/columnist Shaun King calling Trump's comments disgusting with the phrase, "This guy again.."
This guy again... https://t.co/d8MJ3bxCG8— Jalen Reeves-Maybin (@ReevesMaybin) September 23, 2017
And defensive tackle Akeem Spence retweeted a tweet from the NFL Players Association account of a video supporting activism with the message, "We're not just sticking to sports. #NFLSunday", and a second one from NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith that read in part, "We no longer can afford to stick to sports."
We will never back down. We no longer can afford to stick to sports. pic.twitter.com/Ec3Bc4qt9h— DeMaurice Smith (@DeSmithNFLPA) September 23, 2017
The Lions did not respond to a request for comment Saturday morning but the NFL released a statement from commissioner Roger Goodell on Saturday morning in response to Trump's comments.
"The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture," the statement read in part. "Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities."
No Lions player has protested during the playing of the national anthem since the demonstrations began last season with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who protested last season by sitting or kneeling because of social injustices in America.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell has talked to his players about their right to protest and what fallout it might create. Kaepernick, who led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013, opted out of his contract in March and remains a free agent.
"I think the world can take a lot from what we do in sports,” Caldwell said after the deadly Charlottesville riots last month where white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, VA to protest the removal of a confederate statue. “It’s a highly diverse community. Guys get along. They’re from all walks of life. But there’s no place in this game for bigotry and hatred. And I think that’s same way as society, but it’s there. And it’s something that I think we all have to speak out against and not tolerate.”
Last week, a Lions fan posted a photo of two fans sitting for the playing of the national anthem with a racist caption on Snapchat. The fan was forced to give up his season tickets.
Another fan has since re-purchased the tickets with plans to donate them to local charities serving children. He set up a GoFundMe page in hopes of raising $1,400 to help with associated costs for attending the game, and has almost reached his goal.
Along with criticizing players who protest the anthem, Trump, who drew applause for those comments, said any owner who decides to release a player for his activism will be "the most popular person in this country."
"Some owner's going to do that," Trump said. "He's going to say that guy that disrespects our flag, he's fired. And that owner, they don't know it. They don't know it. They're friends of mine, many of them. They don't know it, they'll be the most popular person for a week. They'll be the most popular person in this country because that's a total disrespect of our heritage, that's a total disrespect of everything that we stand for. Everything that we stand for."
Trump said fans should "just pick up and leave" when they see players take a knee in protest, and he bemoaned the state of the game and falling NFL ratings, which he blamed both on people's interest in "yours truly" as well as steps the league has taken to try and make the game safer.
"Today if you hit too hard — they hit too hard — 15 yards, throw him out of the game," Trump said. "They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys just really, beautiful tackle. Boom, 15 yards. The referee gets on television, his wife is sitting at home, she's so proud of him. They're ruining the game. Right? They're ruining the game."
© 2017, Detroit Free Press