Tom Brady joined dozens of other NFL players Monday by speaking out against President Donald Trump’s “divisive” criticism of players who choose to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and systemic racism.
The New England Patriots quarterback, who Trump has described as a “good friend,” said he “certainly” disagrees with the president’s recent comments, in which Trump called for NFL team owners to fire protesting players during a Friday rally in Alabama.
“I thought it was just divisive,” Brady said during an interview with Boston radio WEEI’s “Kirk & Callahan” on Monday. “Like I said, I just want to support my teammates... I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust. Those are the values that my parents instilled in me and it’s how I try to live every day.”
Trump reiterated his criticism in a flurry of tweets throughout the weekend and into Monday morning after calling people like former San Fransciso 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick a “son of a bitch” for protesting during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
But during Monday’s interview, Brady defended those who participate in “peaceful, respectful” protest.
“I think everyone has the right to do whatever they want to do,” he said. “If you don’t agree, that is fine. You can voice your disagreement, I think that is great. It’s part of our democracy. As long as it is done in a peaceful, respectful way, that is what our country has been all about.”
It’s unclear whether Brady supports Trump politically, though he was spotted with a “Make American Great Again” hat in his locker two years ago. Still, he’s one of several NFL figures who have called out the president’s Friday comments despite having previously been on good terms with Trump.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural celebrations, released a statement Sunday condemning the president’s remarks.
“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the president on Friday,” said Kraft, who arranged for Trump to get his own custom Super Bowl LI ring after the Patriots won the NFL championship in February. “I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities.”
Kraft added that he supported the right of players “to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”
On the field, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan linked arms in solidarity with members of the team. Like Kraft, Khan donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration.
Khan later said in a statement that it was a “privilege” to stand by his players.
“Our team and the National Football League reflects our nation, with diversity coming in many forms — race, faith, our views and our goals,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do, and we can do it, but the comments by the President make it harder. That’s why it was important for us, and personally for me, to show the world that even if we may differ at times, we can and should be united in the effort to become better as people and a nation.”
Former Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan went a step further and said Sunday that he regretted ever supporting Trump. Ryan, now a commentator for ESPN, lamented having agreed to introduce Trump at a campaign rally in Buffalo, New York, in April 2016.
“I’m pissed off,” Ryan said on ESPN Sunday. “When he asked me to introduce him at a rally in Buffalo, I did that. But I’m reading these comments and it’s appalling to me and I’m sure it’s appalling to almost any citizen in our country. It should be.”
“You know, calling our players SOBs and all that kind of stuff, that’s not the men that I know,” he continued. “The men that I know in the locker room I’m proud of. I’m proud to be associated with those people. I apologized for being pissed off but guess what? That’s it, because right away I’m associated with what Donald Trump stands for and all that because I introduced him. I never signed up for that, I never wanted that. That doesn’t mean I support 100 percent of the things he says.”