HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — President Donald Trump says National Football League owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem. And he’s encouraging spectators to walk out in protest.
In an extended riff during a freewheeling rally speech in Alabama Friday night, Trump also bemoaned that football games have become less violent.
“They’re ruining the game,” he complained.
Several athletes, including NFL players, have refused to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest of the treatment of blacks by police.
Trump says those players are disrespecting the flag and deserve to lose their jobs.
“That’s a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for,” he said, encouraging owners to act.
“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 said to loud applause.
Trump also predicted that any owner who went through with his encouragement would become “the most popular person in this country” — at least for a week.
Trump, who was in Alabama campaigning for Sen. Luther Strange, also blamed a decline in NFL ratings on the nation’s interest in “yours truly” as well as what he described as a decline in violence in the game.
He said players are being thrown out for aggressive tackles, and it’s “not the same game.”
The NFL has made several efforts to reduce violence in the sport, particularly hits that may cause damage to the head. A July report on 202 former football players found evidence of a debilitating brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them. The league has agreed to pay $1 billion to retired players who claimed it misled them about the concussion dangers of playing football.
During his campaign, Trump often expressed nostalgia for the “old days” — claiming, for example, that protesters at his rallies would have been carried out on stretchers back then. He recently suggested police officers should be rougher with criminals and shouldn’t protect their heads when pushing them into quad cars.
It’s also not the first time he’s raised the kneeling issue. Earlier this year he took credit for the fact that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the trend of kneeling during the anthem, hadn’t been signed by an NFL team.
Trump said the protest was the top reason NFL viewership had waned this season.
“You know what’s hurting the game more than that? When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem,” he said.
Trump encouraged his supporters to pick up and leave the stadium next time they spot a player failing to stand.
“I guarantee things will stop,” he said.
FOXBORO — As the Patriots make final preparations for Sunday’s matchup against the Texans, they’ll keep an eye on rookie running back D’Onta Foreman. It won’t be the first time they’ve taken a look at him.
Foreman, a big back out of Texas, appears to be pushing Lamar Miller for the Texans’ starting job. Bill Belichick said Friday that the Pats worked heavily with him leading up to the draft.
“I spent quite a bit of time with him at Texas last spring,” Belichick said, likening Foreman to a LeGarette Blount type who can also contribute as a pass-catching back.
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The Patriots didn’t like (or need) Foreman enough to draft him in the third round, where he was chosen. They had three cracks at him in the third round (at No. 72, where they traded down, and then at Nos. 83 and 85) and passed all three times.
Instead of taking Foreman with one of the picks, they came away with Derek Rivers at No. 83 and Antonio Garcia at No. 85. The Texans grabbed Foreman at No. 89.
When the teams met in the preseason, Foreman rushed for only 17 yards on seven carries, but had a rushing touchdown and 66 receiving yards on two catches, one of which went for 63 yards.
“He's an impressive guy. He can run through guys,” Belichick said. “He can run around them. He’s got good quickness in space, a good receiver. He’s a big back with some little back skills, so he's got a very good overall skill set. He can be used on all three downs, but he can get tough yards and he can be tough in space, as we saw in the preseason game.”
Of course, the Pats had already loaded their running back group by adding Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead to a crowded depth chart by then, so it’s no surprise they opted against taking a back with one of their first picks.
While there wasn’t a spot for Foreman in New England, the opportunity seems plentiful in Houston. He received just one carry in Houston’s season-opener but cut into Miller’s workload with 12 carries in last week’s win over the Bengals.
With fellow rookie Deshaun Watson making his second NFL start at quarterback, the Texans may have to rely on the running game more than usual Sunday. If that means more touches for Foreman, the Pats will at least know who they’re dealing with.