Donald Trump on Tuesday night launched yet another attack on NFL players who have knelt during the national anthem, although the numbers suggest his criticism may be off the mark.
Trump was speaking at a rally in West Virginia, where he also criticised ESPN for its decision to stop showing the anthem before its Monday Night Football broadcast this season.
“While the players are kneeling, some of them, not all of them at all, you’re all proudly standing for out national anthem,” he told the rally. In the latest round of preseason game just one player – the Miami Dolphins’ Albert Wilson – knelt during the national anthem. That means 0.06% of the NFL’s 1,664 players knelt during the most recent action, although that percentage is actually smaller as teams are allowed larger rosters during preseason. A small number of players protested by staying in the tunnel during the anthem or raising their fists.
ESPN’s actions also angered the president. “You’re proud of our country, you’re proud of our history, and unlike the NFL, you always honor and cherish our great American flag,” Trump said. “It was just announced by ESPN that rather than defending our anthem, our beautiful, beautiful national anthem and defending our flag, they’ve decided that they just won’t broadcast when they play the national anthem. We don’t like that.”
Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN’s president, said the policy could change during the season. “We generally have not broadcasted the anthem, and I don’t think that will change this year,” he said. “Our plan going into this year is to not broadcast the anthem … again that could change. It’s unpredictable what could happen in the world, but as of now, we’re not.”
ESPN is not the only broadcaster to implement the policy. In 2017, Fox Sports said its standard policy was to not show the anthem during “regionalised coverage of NFL games”.
The anthem protests started during preseason two years ago when the San Francisco 49ers players Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid knelt during the anthem to protest social injustice in the United States. The NFL and players union have yet to announce an anthem policy after the league initially ruled that teams could be fined if players knelt during the Star-Spangled Banner.
- An early version of this article said 0.0006% of NFL players knelt in the latest round of preseason games. This has been corrected to 0.06% of players.
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