President Donald Trump shared his thoughts Friday night on NFL players protesting during the national anthem, suggesting that NFL owners should "fire" players who kneel during the anthem in protest. His remarks are alreading drawing responses from many NFL players, including some Bucs.
"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired!'" Trump said at a rally in Alabama, with video of the speech widely broadcast later on TV news outlets. "You know, some owner is gonna do that. He's gonna say 'That guy that disrespects our flag, he's fired.' And that owner, they don't know it ... They're friends of mine, many of them. They don't know it. They'll be the most popular person, for a week. They'll be the most popular person in this country."
The Bucs play Sunday in Minnesota and are on the road Saturday, so there are no opportunities to interview players for an response to Trump's comments, but two posted on Twitter in response to what they heard Friday night.
"Smh! Gives more reason," wrote new Bucs safety T.J. Ward, using online shorthand for "shaking my head" with a link to video of Trump's comments.
"So the BLACK NFL PLAYERS are SON OF A BITCH now WOW," wrote defensive tackle Chris Baker, drawing a wide range of responses himself. Trump didn't address NFL players of any specific race, but much of the anthem protests have focused on treatment of African-Americans in this country, especially by law enforcement officers.
The Bucs have had very little protest during anthems -- receiver Mike Evans chose to sit during the anthem after the presidential election last year during a home game against the Bears, but also ended his protest after one game, making it clear throughout that he intended no disrespect to the flag or military personnel.
"If I had to do it over again, I would have done it differently, but I would still use my platform to help," Evans said in ending his protest after one game.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter has made it clear the national anthem is special to him and he will always stand with his hand on his heart, but he also held a team meeting to allow players to talk about the issues that have led to protest, and to make it clear they had the right to express themselves during the anthem as they saw fit. No Bucs players have kneeled or sat during anthems this preseason or during Sunday's game at home against Chicago.
It's possible that Trump's comments Friday will prompt more anthem protests this weekend during games. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement Saturday morning in response to Trump's comments:
"The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture," Goodell wrote. "There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible nature disasters we've experienced over the last month. 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 suggested Friday that the decline in NFL ratings is because "they like watching what's happening ... with yours truly." And at a time when the NFL is working to lessen the impact of concussions in the game, Trump said he doesn't like penalties in games designed with player safety in mind. "They've ruining the game," he said. "That's what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It's hurting the game."
Some pro athletes have protested by declining the usual invitations for champions to visit the White House, and Trump responded to that Saturday morning, saying the NBA's Golden State Warriors were no longer invited to visit him.
"Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team," Trump wrote on Twitter. "Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn."