President Donald Trump took aim at two of the world's most powerful sports leagues and some of their most popular athletes, directly inserting himself into a fiery debate about race, social justice and the role athletes play in highlighting those issues.
In a campaign rally Friday, Trump urged NFL owners to fire players who do not stand for the national anthem. On Saturday morning, Trump tweeted that NBA star Stephen Curry is not welcome at the White House.
Trump's comments drew a swift and unusually strong rebuke from the NFL, which has done more than most leagues in wrapping itself in the American flag, as well as the players' union. Scores of football and basketball players, including LeBron James, perhaps the best known athlete in the country, took to social media to lambaste the president.
James went so far as calling the president a "bum."
"Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!" James wrote on Twitter.
On Friday night, Trump said: "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,' " the president said at a rally for Alabama Sen. Luther Strange.
He said the protests would stop if fans left games when players did not stand for the anthem.
In an unusually strong rebuke of the president Saturday, Roger Goodell, commissioner of the league, in which a majority of the owners are Republican, said the president failed to understand how the league and its players work together to "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," Goodell said.
"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."
Dan Wetzel, a columnist with YahooSports.com, said Trump's comments will create more protests from players and galvanize support among their peers.
"With TV contracts set, and sweetheart stadium deals in place, there isn't much anyone can do to hurt the NFL's bottom line enough for it to reverse course, violate its collective-bargaining agreement or get pushed around," wrote Wetzel.
"NFL owners are, for the most part, real billionaires who for decades rejected Trump's bid to join them. The owners may have donated $7.25 million to his inauguration fund, but just as that won't stop the president to call for a mass rejection of a major American business, it doesn't mean they truly respect him."
What professional football team did Donald Trump own?
The New Jersey Generals of the USFL
Sports on 09/24/2017
Print Headline: President, 2 leagues swap shots