WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday renewed his attacks on NFL players pushing for criminal justice and other social reforms, as a number of players protested during the league’s preseason opening late on Thursday.
The National Football League has struggled with how to address the issue of protesting players who kneel as the national anthem is played, as they react to Trump’s drumbeat of attacks over the past year while managing relations with its players and maintaining its fans.
As games opened on Thursday, several players knelt, refused to stand on the field, or raised fists in protest.
Trump, who has urged the NFL to suspend protesting players, again called on the league to act, and said players should find another way to speak out.
“Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their ‘outrage’ at something that most of them are unable to define. They make a fortune doing what they love…..Be happy, be cool!” he tweeted early on Friday.
For the past few seasons, some NFL players have sought to call attention to the mistreatment of minorities by U.S. law enforcement by taking a knee during the anthem before games begin. Trump and others have blasted the gesture as a sign of disrespect to the U.S. flag and the military, launching a political fight.
League owners last month suspended a policy they had sought to put in place this season that would have required players to stand for the anthem, after the player’s union objected.
Representatives for the NFL and the NFL Players Association did not respond to a request for comment.
Former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who started the protests in 2016, praised Miami Dolphins players Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson for kneeling Thursday night to “protest systemic oppression.”
“Stay strong brothers!” Kaepernick said in a post on Twitter.
Trump has also condemned African-American players in other sports, spurring critics to say his comments are racially charged and intended to stoke his base ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm congressional elections.
Last week, the president lashed out at National Basketball Association star LeBron James after he told CNN in an interview that Trump was using sports “to kind of divide us.”
In June, Trump refused to follow White House tradition of inviting league winners for an official visit, saying he would not extend an invitation to this year’s NBA champs.
(Reporting by Makini Brice and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum)