The NFL Players Association, the union that represents the nation's professional football players, will always protect the constitutional rights of players to protest during the National Anthem, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said Saturday.
“Whether or not [NFL commissioner] Roger [Goodell] and the owners will speak for themselves about their views on player rights and their commitment to player safety remains to be seen,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement, posted to Twitter.
“This union, however, will never back down when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of our players as citizens as well as their safety as men who compete in a game that exposes them to great risks," he added.
Smith's comments come a day after President Donald Trump, during a rally for interim Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama, called for people to "pick up and leave" professional football games when players kneel to protest during the National Anthem.
Trump also called on NFL team owners to fire players who refuse to stand while the National Anthem is being played or performed.
"When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they are playing our great national anthem – the only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it's one player, leave the stadium," Trump said. "I guarantee things will stop."
His comments appeared aimed at NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the kneeling trend, while playing for the San Francisco 49ers, to protest the treatment of people of color in the United States. As a result, he has not been signed on by an NFL team this season.
Trump, a former owner of the New Jersey Generals in the short-lived U.S. Football League, said such players are disrespecting the flag and "everything that we stand for."
"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you'd say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired," Trump told his Friday night audience.
The president further said NFL referees who penalize players for hitting too hard are "ruining the game."
That statement came after revelations that former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who committed suicide in April while serving a life sentence for murder, had been diagnosed posthumously with the second-most-severe form of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
In addition to the players union, several football players have also fired back at Trump's comments, including Washington Redskins linebacker Zach Brown, who tweeted that Trump should stay in his place, reports The Hill.
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