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Packers and Bengals fans differ over President Donald Trump's statement that NFL players should be fired if they don’t stand for the national anthem. Jonathan Anderson/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

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GREEN BAY - John Cole and Diane Malecki both cheered for the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday when Green Bay took on the Cincinnati Bengals, but they found themselves on opposite sides politically just before kickoff.

Packers players Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks and Kevin King sat during the national anthem to protest police brutality and social inequality, while many of their teammates and members of the Bengals locked arms in a show of unity.

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The demonstrations come after President Donald Trump said Friday that NFL players should be fired if they don’t stand for the national anthem, a statement that stoked an already smoldering debate about the issue.

Numerous NFL players and officials denounced Trump’s comments, including Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy.

To Cole, a 71-year-old from Milwaukee, Sunday's dissent by players was an expression of free speech. To Malecki, the display was inappropriate for a football game.

“When I see them kneeling or sitting, I’m disgusted by it,” said Malecki, 66, a retired school teacher from Oshkosh.

Malecki and a group of family and friends brought American flags to wave at Sunday’s game specifically to counter protests by players.

She said that while players can express their views on their own time, she believed they are taking advantage of their football fame.

“They’re using the NFL and they have no right to do that,” Malecki said.

It was a sentiment that several other Trump supporters at Lambeau echoed: Players, they said, should stick to the game.

Bengals fan Steve Caudill, 31, of Cleveland, said he doesn’t think players should necessarily be fired for not standing during the national anthem, but he said he might support levying fines or suspensions against them.

“I’m here for football,” Caudill said. “I’m not here for politics.”

Green Bay resident Jodie Nemzoff-Turner, 47, who was tailgating ahead of the game, said she supported the players calling attention to social problems.

Kneeling during the national anthem, Nemzoff-Turner said, is more effective than rioting in the streets.

“It’s a positive way to express the way they’re thinking,” she said, adding: "They’re not disrespecting what the national anthem stands for."

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Cole, who served in the Vietnam War, reiterated the point: He said the protests by the football players reflected American values.

“It’s freedom of speech,” Cole said. “That’s what America is. It’s not a dictatorship.”

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