President Donald Trump thinks the NFL kneeling protests would never have gained popularity if the league had formally disciplined former San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality.
“I watched Colin Kaepernick and I thought it was terrible. And then it got bigger and bigger and started mushrooming,” Trump told Hannity, according to a Fox News producer’s transcript of the show.
“And frankly the NFL should have suspended him for one game and he would have never done it gain,” he continued. “They could have then suspended him for two games and they could have suspended him again if he did it a third time for the season, and you would have never had a problem.”
Earlier Wednesday, Trump tweeted that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made a change in NFL policy requiring athletes to stand during the anthem. This statement was incorrect, and forced the NFL to clarify that the league still does not require players to stand during the anthem.
Kaepernick began his peaceful protest in 2016 as a quarterback for the 49ers by taking a knee during the national anthem during a pre-season game. Kaepernick explained at the time that he was protesting racial injustice and police violence against black people.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL.com at the time. “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.”
Kaepernick’s protest inspired other NFL athletes to make various similar gestures of protest during the pre-game anthems throughout the rest of the season, including kneeling, linking arms, raising a fist or missing the anthem altogether.
The peaceful protests continued into the 2017 NFL season, but Trump took aim at them last month after he called NFL players who kneel “sons of bitches” and told NFL team owners to fire them.
Since then, Goodell and nearly all coaches and team owners have spoken out against the president’s comments in some way. Every team has also demonstrated in its own form of protest or show of team unity during the anthem.
While some Americans support the athletes’ decisions to protest racial inequality, others have found them disrespectful to the American flag, members of the military and law enforcement.