On Sunday morning, at what appeared to be the height of Donald Trump’s war with the NFL, Fox & Friends host Pete Hegseth wondered aloud why players were protesting against “the least sexist, least racist, most free, most equal, most prosperous country in the history of humankind.”
Four days later, he had landed an “exclusive” interview with the president.
They began their conversation, of course, with the NFL story and Hegseth handed Trump a layup by asking why the issues of “patriotism” and “citizenship” are so important to him.
“The NFL cannot disrespect our country,” Trump said, quadrupling down on the narrative he has been pushing for days. “They cannot disrespect our flag or our national anthem. And they can’t have people sitting down or kneeling down during our national anthem.”
Trump said that when he first saw ex-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the anthem, he thought to himself, “This is a terrible thing.”
While he mentioned his decision to speak out against the kneeling players at his rally in Alabama last week, he did not seem to recognize the way in which his words ultimately galvanized hundreds of players to join Kaepernick’s cause. Neither Trump nor Hegseth brought up the issue of police brutality that inspired players to kneel in the first place.
“The NFL’s in a box, they have to do something about it,” Trump said. Given that the league has “rules for everything,” he asked, “Why aren’t they honored a rule that’s been in existence for a long time?” Yet, as we learned this week, the custom of players standing on the field for the national anthem dates back to just 2009.
“I have so many friends that are owners, and they're in a box,” Trump added, noting that he has spoken to a number of them about the situation. “I think they’re afraid of their players, if you want to know the truth, and I think it’s disgraceful.”
Trump counts many of those NFL owners as his campaign donors. And as The Washington Post reported this week, the team owners who donated to Trump’s campaign have fewer black executives than those who didn’t. The president has said his views on this issue have “nothing to do with race,” but it’s hard to ignore that while all of the NFL owners are white, the majority of players kneeling for the anthem are black.
Could that have anything to do with why he thinks the owners are “afraid?”