As protests continue, NFL calls Trump’s comments ‘divisive’

After the president lashed out at football players for kneeling during the national anthem, the league and its teams responded in solidarity.

During football season, Sundays can divide friends and relatives rooting for different teams.

However, the National Football League and many of its teams called for unity in light of incendiary remarks made by President Donald Trump at rally to support Sen. Luther Strange, an Alabama Republican.

Trump lashed out at NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial inequality:

CNN Politics reported:

Players have been protesting the during anthem since last August, when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started protesting the shootings of unarmed black men by police. Trump reignited the animus over players’ anthem protests at a campaign rally for Republican Sen. Luther Strange on Friday.

NFL and teams appeal to unity

On Saturday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued the following statement:

> The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural 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

Many NFL owners echoed Goodell by also using the word “unity” in their statements; others called Trump’s comments “divisive” and “disrespectful”:

Growing protests prior to NFL’s day of the week

On Saturday, Trump continued to lash out at the league, tweeting that fans should boycott NFL games until teams’ players stopped protesting during the national anthem:

The tweets, along with reactions from NFL fans and players, drew additional headlines and forced teams to respond—even those that attempted to avoid the politically charged situation.

Social media analytics firm Talkwalker reports:

… [T]here were nearly a quarter million social posts related to the NFL and the National Anthem this weekend.

Among the top trending hashtags were #TakeAKnee with 22,500 mentions and #TakeTheKnee with 6,800 mentions. But those two hashtags were not only trending with supporters of players taking a knee, but also included posts critical of the practice.

CNN reported:

In a Sunday morning game being played in London between the Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens, a number of players stood for the British anthem but sank to their knees for the American song. Jaguars owner Shad Khan locked arms with players during the anthem, and at least a dozen of his players took a knee.

The trend continued throughout the day as teams continued to either protest Trump’s remarks or protest being shoved into taking a political stand.

Many teams lined up and locked arms during the national anthem in a show of solidarity, while some players either sat or kneeled while the song played. Some put their fists in the air. Several teams’ owners joined their players on the field, such as the Washington Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder:

One player, LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills, continued to warm up with stretches as his protest:

Other teams such as the Pittsburg Steelers refused to come onto the field until the national anthem was sung.

ESPN reported:

The Steelers coach told CBS’ Jamie Erdahl before the game that the team wanted to “remove ourselves from the circumstance” and meant no disrespect.

“We’re not going to play politics,” Tomlin said. “We’re football players, we’re football coaches. We’re not participating in the anthem today — not to be disrespectful to the anthem but to remove ourselves from the circumstance.

“People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something, he shouldn’t be separated from his teammate who chooses not to.”

The Seattle Seahawks and the Tennessee Titans also remained off the field for the national anthem prior to their match, which some reporters called “surreal”:

It wasn’t just the teams that reacted to Trump’s statements, either. Singers Meghan Linsey and Rico Lavelle kneeled after singing the national anthem in Tennessee and Detroit, respectively:

On Sunday, Trump responded to the protest with the following tweets:

For PR pros, the situation can showcase several ways to handle criticism from the president while staying away from political statements as much as possible.

It also shows that organizations increasingly are pressured to weigh in on political discussions, especially when their members take stands on political and social issues.

Though many communicators agree that having a crisis communications plan in place before a firestorm hits is essential, you might want to include a strategy for a “Trump crisis contingency,” in case your organization or client also ends up in Trump’s virtual line of fire.

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