The Green Bay Packers football team stirred controversy among fans after a request by players called on fans to join them in a show of unity during the national anthem, according to The Green Bay Press Gazette.
Some fans are slamming the National Football League, the team, and its players for what they consider disrespect for the U.S., the flag, or the military, while supporters say that players are peacefully exercising free speech, The Gazette reported.
On Sunday, most of the Packers locked arms during the national anthem. Three sat through the anthem. On Tuesday, players invited fans at Thursday's game to join them in locking arms as a show of unity, according to The Gazette.
"We've had a steady stream of feedback beginning Monday morning and it continued into Wednesday. We've heard on both sides of the matter. We take note of their concerns," said Aaron Popkey, Packers public affairs director, in the Gazette.
"I watch football to watch football . . . I think the league underestimates the tolerance of normal fans who seek out football to get a break from the daily barrage of rhetoric of political division," said Packers fan Herb Jabs in The Gazette's report.
While some fans have threatened on social media to return season tickets or their shares of the team, Popkey said in The Gazette that he was only aware of one share being returned.
"If they want to return them and don't want to be a shareholder, we'll accept them," Popkey said.
The issue of protesting during the national anthem ramped up after President Donald Trump urged owners to fire players who protested. Before the president made those comments, only a handful of players across the NFL protested, according to The Gazette.
The protests across the NFL on Sunday appeared to be a reaction to Trump's comments as much as a concern for racial equality, which led to former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick to protest last season, The Gazette reported.
Trump weighed in on the issue again in an interview that aired Thursday morning on Fox News. "They cannot disrespect our flag or our national anthem," Trump said in an interview recorded Wednesday.
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