President Donald Trump ignited extreme outrage among National Football League players, coaches and owners over the weekend when he suggested during a trip to Alabama on Friday that players should be fired for kneeling in protest during the playing of the national anthem.
Although much has been made in the media over the past 13 months about players kneeling, sitting or engaging in some other form of protest during the playing of the "Star Spangled Banner" before each game, Trump's comments seemingly dumped gasoline on a political firestorm that had been building up for over a year since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the trend of protesting during the anthem in 2016.
Trump's harsh words inspired a swift reaction from over 200 players, the league and team owners.
Considering that the president has doubled down on his remarks about the anthem with tweets on Monday, here are six things people should know about Trump's new-found war with the NFL.
1. Why are some players kneeling during the singing of the "Star Spangled Banner"?
Kaepernick became a hero in the eyes of many and a nuisance in the eyes of some when he gained widespread media attention after he refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem before an August 2016 pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers.
When asked why he sat during the anthem, Kaepernick replied:
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
With that statement, Kaepernick instantly became one of the most polarizing figures in all of sports, even though he wasn't even the starting quarterback on the team at the time.
In a preseason game that was of relatively little importance, Kaepernick seemingly made a rather large political statement.
Since then and before last Friday, a small number of players from other teams joined in taking part in the protest of police brutality against African Americans by either kneeling or sitting during the singing of the national anthem before their games.
Although many onlookers, especially some veterans and military service members, might feel that players' kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful to the country, military and Old Glory, Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson, a devout Christian, explained on Facebook that it's important not to misunderstand the real reason why players are protesting during national anthem protests.
"[D]o not listen to the alternative reasons for the protest that serve to deflect and dismiss the real reasons. The protests were started to bring attention to police brutality and oppression in various forms," Watson, who often speaks and writes out about racial issues, said. "I can understand how you view it as disrespectful. You point of view is valid. Numerous protesters have said that is not their intention yet others have sought to hijack and change their words."
Watson chose to stand during the national anthem before Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
2. Trump called on NFL owners to fire players who protest during anthem.
Before the president interjected himself into one of the most emotionally-driven social discussions in the United States, only a select number of players and teams were using the national anthem to make the social statement. However, that all changed after Trump spoke last Friday at a campaign rally for Alabama Republican Senator Luther Strange.
"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a b**** off the field right now. Out! He's fired. He's fired!'" Trump said. "You know, some owner is going to do that. He's going to say, 'That guy that disrespects our flag, he's fired.' And that owner, they don't know it [but] they'll be the most popular person in this country."
Trump also posted a series of tweets about national anthem protests on Saturday.
"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!" Trump wrote.
3. Players, coaches, and teams responded in force.
Meanwhile, three teams — the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks — chose to stay in the locker room during the singing of the national anthem before their games. In fact, Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army ranger who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan and is a graduate of the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, was the lone Steeler on the field during the national anthem.
Many teams locked arms while some players stood and others knelt or sat during the national anthems. A number of owners also got involved.
"Chapel that morning was emotional as guys talked about what they wanted to do," Watson, who was interviewed by ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday, said of conversations he had with his Ravens teammates before Sunday's game.
"Wanting to respect our country and show their love for their country but also wanting to respond in solidarity. It kind of was organic. We got on the field and some guys had decided to kneel that didn't before. Other guys locked arms. I locked arms and I also pointed to the skies because I really believe that the Lord will have to have His hand on us when it comes to reconciling our differences."
4. Trump's comments lead to an exponential increase in national anthem protesting.
During the second week of the NFL season, only six players protested during the playing of the national anthem, according to the Associated Press.
To go from just six to over 200 players protesting the "Star Spangled Banner" gives a good indication that NFL players did not take what Trump said too kindly.
"Up until yesterday, the players would want people to know that this was not about the flag and this was not about patriotism. It was about social change," Hall of Fame head coach and broadcaster Tony Dungy said on the "Today" show Monday. "Yesterday, this was a group of our family [who] got attacked and called names and told they were unpatriotic and should be fired for what we feel is demonstrating our First Amendment right. We are going to bow-up, band together as a family and they reacted."
"You had people who hadn't been involved in this movement now saying, 'I am going to side with my teammates,'" Dungy added.
Watson told "Good Morning America" that many players felt that Trump's comments were a "direct attack on our brotherhood."
"Even to imply that we don't have a right to express ourselves in any way, whether you agree or not, is something that we really took to heart," Watson stated.
5. The NFL, the players union and teams criticized Trump's statements.
Both the NFL and the NFL Players Association supported the First Amendment rights of their players by issuing statements in response to Trump over the weekend.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement Saturday morning, stating that Trump's comments are "divisive" and "demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players."
"The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture," Goodell said in a statement. "There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we've experienced over the last month."
NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith also released a statement on Saturday.
"The peaceful demonstrations by some of our players have generated a wide array of responses. Those opinions are protected speech and freedom that has been paid for by the sacrifice of men and women throughout history," Smith asserted. "This expression of speech has generated thoughtful discussion in our locker rooms and in board rooms. However, the line that marks the balance between the rights of every citizen in our great country gets crossed when someone is told to just 'shut up and play.'"
A number of NFL owners issued statements responding to Trump's remarks over the weekend, many of whom called Trump's comments divisive and offensive.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who donated over $1 million to Trump's presidential campaign, also condemned the president's comments.
"I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday. I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities," Kraft said in a statement. "Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger.
"There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful."
6. Trump has doubled down on his remarks.
Trump responded to Sunday's protests and the criticisms from the NFL, team owners and NFLPA the way he normally does — through Twitter.
In a tweet issued Sunday morning, Trump called on fans to boycott the NFL until owners hold players accountable for "disrespecting" the American flag.
"NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN," Trump wrote in another tweet. "Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S."
In a tweet on Monday morning, the president praised fans who "booed" players sitting or kneeling during the anthem.
Trump also asserted on Twitter Monday morning that "the issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race."
"It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!" Trump added.