President Donald Trump renewed his call on Sunday for the NFL to fire or suspend players who refuse to stand during the national anthem.

Fans should boycott games until the NFL starts penalizing the players, Trump tweeted.

The tweets were the latest in a three-day condemnation of players who have decided to sit or take a knee to protest police violence against minorities. Trump called on the NFL to punish them.

The NFL and owners responded by supporting the players and their rights and disagreeing with Trump’s remarks.

“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement Saturday.

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“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.”

Trump’s comments unified players and led to more protests on Sunday, becoming the main story across the league.

Most members of the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars stood with their arms locked in solidarity or took a knee on the field before Sunday morning’s kickoff in London’s Wembley Stadium.

Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin told CBS that the Steelers wouldn’t be participating in the national anthem because they were not “going to let divisive times or divisive individuals” affect their agenda.

“We are not going to play politics with football players or football coaches,” Tomlin said. “We are not participating in the anthem today, not to be disrespectful to the anthem (but) to remove ourselves from this circumstance. People shouldn’t have to choose.”

“The peaceful demonstrations by some of our players have generated a wide array of responses,” said NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith in a statement Saturday.

“Those opinions are protected speech and a freedom that has been paid for by the sacrifice of men and women throughout history. This expression of speech has generated thoughtful discussions in our locker rooms and in board rooms. However, the line that marks the balance between the rights of every citizen in our great country gets crossed when someone is told to just ‘shut up and play.'”

While giving a speech on Friday night in Alabama, Trump brought up the issue.

“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 at a rally.

Since then, he has echoed those comments.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin followed up Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” defending Trump, saying the NFL has many rules governing what players can and cannot do.

“I think what the president is saying is that the owners should have a rule that players should have to stand in respect for the national anthem,” Mnuchin said. “They can do free speech on their own time.”

After hearing Trump’s remarks, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley, who hasn’t participated in the protests, defended his fellow players and explained his support for the protests.

Free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the movement last year when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, refusing to stand during the national anthem to protest the treatment of black people by police.

Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters has drawn attention by peacefully sitting during the anthem this year.

Prior to the Sept. 7 opener at New England, Peters posted a tweet that displayed the bottoms of shoes inscribed with the words “LIBERTY” and “JUSTICE FOR ALL.”

Peters was condemned on social media. Star columnist Jenee Osterheldt attracted appalling abuse in reaction to a column endorsing Peters.

In a statement released on Twitter, New England Patriots chairman and chief executive Robert Kraft on Sunday said he was “deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments by the president.” Kraft had been a strong supporter of Trump.

Team owners and chief executives responded to Trump’s remarks, calling them inappropriate and divisive.

“Comments like we heard last night from the president are inappropriate, offensive and divisive,” said New York Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch. “We are proud of our players, the vast majority of whom use their NFL platform to make a positive difference in our society.”

The Buffalo Bills, bothered by the situation, held a voluntary team meeting on Saturday with players, coaches, staff and ownership

“Our players have the freedom to express themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner and we all agreed that our sole message is to provide and to promote an environment that is focused on love and equality,” owners Terry and Kim Pegula said in a statement distributed by the Bills

“I know our players who kneeled for the anthem, and these are smart young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone,” Ross said. “They wanted to start a conversation and are making a difference in our community, including working with law enforcement to bring people together. We all can benefit from learning, listening and respecting each other.”

Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said: “We recognize our players’ influence. We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent. All voices need to be heard. That’s democracy in its highest form.”

Denver Broncos president and chief executive Joe Ellis said the team’s players have raise awareness for important societal issues by using their platform in a positive way.

“As an organization, we could not be more proud, appreciative and grateful for our players. We’ll continue to support them and work together to advocate for values of respect, diversity and inclusion.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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