GREEN BAY – The NFL and its players reacted to criticism from President Donald Trump, who encouraged team owners Friday night to “fire” any of their athletes who protest during the playing of the national anthem.
Green Bay Packers President /CEO Mark Murphy issued a statement Saturday offering support for "any of our players who choose to peacefully express themselves with the hope of change for the good."
The full statement from Murphy:
"It's unfortunate that the President decided to use his immense platform to make divisive and offensive statements about our players and the NFL. We strongly believe that players are leaders in our communities and positive influences. They have achieved their positions through tremendous work and dedication and should be celebrated for their success and positive impact.
"We believe it is important to support any of our players who choose to peacefully express themselves with the hope of change for good. As Americans, we are fortunate to be able to speak openly and freely."
Packers wide receiver Davante Adams and tight end Martellus Bennett were among the players who took to Twitter in response to Trump's remarks.
"We'll 'stick to football' when we see progress," Adams tweeted. "Our Nations leader can't even set a good example of how it looks to be a great American."
Adams and Packers backup quarterback Brett Hundley also retweeted several posts that were critical of Trump’s comments.
Bennett raised his fist during “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the first two games in support of his brother Michael, who has been kneeling or sitting during the anthem before Seattle Seahawks games to protest racial inequality.
On Saturday, Bennett tweeted that he was "ok with being fired for what I believe in."
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers weighed in Sunday on Instagram:
Rodgers also sent a message with his game-day ticket giveaway:
Trump made his remarks during a rally in Huntsville, Ala.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that (expletive) off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement Saturday in response.
“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. 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,” Goodell said in the statement.
“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”
The NFL Players Association earlier had released a statement from executive director DeMaurice Smith, who tweeted: "We will never back down. We no longer can afford to stick to sports
The Packers have expressed support for Bennett's protests. Asked about their tight end’s gesture after the opener against Seattle, coach Mike McCarthy said he backed Bennett’s right to “stand up in a positive manner” for a cause that was important to him. Bennett also got backing from Rodgers.
“I support Marty 100 percent in just about everything he does,” Rodgers said.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson, when asked in August about national-anthem protests in general, said, “This is a free country in my opinion, and free people can do what they like.”
Among the player reaction from around the NFL:
» Former Packers linebacker Mike Neal tweeted: “Donald Trump is a pure idiot! #ImpeachThisClown”
» Lions tight end Eric Ebron tweeted: “Does anyone tell trump to stick to politics, like they tell us to stick to sports? Smh.”
» Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman tweeted: “The behavior of the President is unacceptable and needs to be addressed. If you do not Condemn this divisive Rhetoric you are Condoning it!!
Trump also criticized NFL game officials for enforcing rules designed to protect players from dangerous hits, saying penalties are “ruining the game.”
“Fifteen yards, throw him out of the game,” Trump said. “They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys, just really beautiful tackle, boom, 15 yards. The referee gets on television, his wife is sitting at home, she’s so proud of him — they’re ruining the game. Right? They’re ruining the game. Hey look, that’s what they want to do. They want to hit, but it is hurting the game.”