NFL head, players speak out on Trump's calling for kneeling players to be 'fired'

The NFL commissioner spoke out on President Donald Trump’s condemning players who kneel in protest during the national anthem and calling on team owners to fire those players.

“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,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement that did not mention the president by name or directly refer to his comments.

NFL players across the league and their union were more direct in their response to Trump’s criticism Friday night of the handful of NFL players who have kneeled or sat on the bench during the national anthem performed before games over the past two seasons. The practice was most famously done by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick, who is currently unsigned, began kneeling in the preseason in 2016 as a sign of protest over the treatment of blacks in the U.S.

Trump at a rally in Alabama on Friday said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of the NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now?’”

“You know, some owner … is going to say, ‘That guy who disrespects our flag, he’s fired,’” the president said to thunderous applause and cheers.

The president of the NFL Players Union, which represents current and former players, also responded Saturday, saying, “The balance between the rights of every citizen in our great country gets crossed when someone is told to just ‘shut up and play.’”

Union President DeMaurice Smith acknowledged in his statement that “the peaceful demonstrations by some of our players” haven’t been universally supported, but “have generated a wide array of responses.”

But, he added, “Those opinions are protected speech and a freedom that has been paid for by the sacrifice of men and women throughout history … No man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights.”

Reaction to Trump’s comments on social media by players were largely negative:

Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall

Lions tight end Eric Ebron

Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis

Redskins linebacker Zach Brown

Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews (a college teammate of Kaepernick)

Buccaneers safety T.J. Ward

Vikings running back Bishop Sankey

Former Texans running back Arian Foster

Kaepernick did not respond to the Trump comments in the hours following the speech by Trump.

Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett recently reignited the debate when he criticized Las Vegas police for racial profiling following an accidental arrest last month.

Bennett was detained by police outside a Las Vegas casino on Aug. 27 after police responded to a report of gunfire in the area. Video obtained by TMZ of the incident shows an officer yelling at Bennett and pointing his gun at him while he is handcuffed. He was later let go by police.

Bennett has begun sitting on the bench during the national anthem in protest of police violence.

ABC News’ Brendan Rand contributed to this report.

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