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Trump's Criticism Renews Spotlight On NFL National Anthem Protests


NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now to talk about these protests. And Tom, I want you to put this into perspective. The kneeling during the national anthem began with one player, Colin Kaepernick, who isn't even playing this season. Should we credit President Trump for what happened?

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: (Laughter) I guess we should, Robert. He took a controversy that had largely died down, and he detonated it. It was a smattering of players around the league protesting. The most notable aspect of it this season was white players were getting involved. It had been only African-Americans sitting or taking a knee - but then the president's comments and as we just heard in that montage what happened.

And as we also heard, you know, this isn't just about the protesters. This weekend has drawn a clear line of division. There were fans, as we heard, who booed the players and who cheered Pittsburgh offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva. Now, he's a former Army Ranger. And while his team yesterday stayed off the field during the anthem, he was the only team member who came out for the anthem, standing with his hand over his heart. And according to a couple of merchandise websites today, Robert, Villanueva's jersey sales are through the roof.

SIEGEL: And President Trump had more to say about this today.

GOLDMAN: The racial aspect of this controversy of course has taken center stage. The president both told reporters and wrote on Twitter today that he has nothing to do with race. This has nothing to do with race. But then another tweet from him this morning appeared to stoke the debate over race.

The president - the president's tweet read, so proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won't put up with disrespecting our country or our flag. They said it loud and clear. Now of course, Robert, NASCAR has always been deemed a white sport. Over the years, there have been very few African-American drivers. In the past, you'd often see Confederate flags at NASCAR events, although there's been a move in recent years to end that.

SIEGEL: What do you make of the owners getting involved? Some of whom donated to Trump's campaign are criticizing him now.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, I don't think we should assume they all got religion and are now actively supporting players protesting the national anthem. What they're doing is responding to the president's insult - insults of players that threaten the NFL brotherhood. And owners will stand behind that. But a number of them will continue to support Trump, and they'll still object to taking a knee during the national anthem.

SIEGEL: And what's expected from Monday Night Football tonight?

GOLDMAN: Well, Monday night tonight, you've got the Dallas Cowboys visiting Arizona. And it'll be interesting to see what happens, especially with Dallas. Most NFL owners or teams have made statements about what the president said and the reaction, but not Dallas and - or its normally outspoken owner, Jerry Jones, a Trump supporter. Jones - his own record before the president's comments - that he's against the anthem protests. But according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Robert, some Dallas players are planning to do something tonight.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.