During an appearance on Fox News on Thursday morning, May 24, President Donald Trump was asked about the NFL's decision to penalize kneeling during the national anthem. Soon after, Trump's response to the NFL kneeling rule became headline news. From that, there was one line in particular that stood out.
The president told Fox & Friends's Brian Kilmeade, "You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem or you shouldn't be playing. You shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country."
That Trump was asked about the ruling is no surprise. The president became very much a part of the wider subject of protests in the NFL during the 2017 NFL season, having vocally and frequently criticizing the league, owners, and players. That he respond in the specific manner that he did is not surprising either, but it is still noteworthy.
The president essentially said black players who demonstrate during the national anthem, in a self-stated mission to highlight injustice, should not be in the country. The message invariably amounted to a cliche refrain — "if you don't like it here, then leave" — despite the president himself having led a campaign that attracted a majority-white coalition endorsing a slogan that implicitly stated America isn't great.
Trump's Fox & Friends interview had been taped on Wednesday, minutes after the news about the NFL's new ruling broke, Kilmeade said during the Thursday morning airing of the show. During the interview, Kilmeade can be seen dictating news coverage of the rule change to the president, essentially making Trump's response a live reaction to the decision.
Trump's response on Thursday fell comfortably in line with the genre of the president's commentary on the NFL. Over a period of years, the president has repeatedly said protesting players should either lose their jobs or get out of the country.
In September, while campaigning for disgraced former Senate candidate Roy Moore, Trump said he'd like to see owners say about protesting players, "Get that son of a b*tch off the field right now, he's fired!"
The next day, Trump tweeted, "If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!"
In 2016, when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem, Trump said during one interview, "I have followed it [the story] and I think it's personally not a good thing. I think it's a terrible thing, and you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him, let him try, it's not gonna happen."
At the time, Kaepernick had explained why he would not be standing during the anthem.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color, the quarterback said. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
During the 2017 season, Kaepernick was unsigned, but scores of NFL players took on his demonstration with many kneeling during the anthem, while others raised their fists or did both.
Now, months ahead of the 2018 season, the NFL has issued a new rule to formally make kneeling an infringement.
"We want people to be respectful to the national anthem, we want people to stand — that's all personnel — and make sure that they treat this moment in a respectful fashion," league commissioner Roger Goodell said during a press conference.
The penalty for not standing, the NFL's rule states, would be a fine against the teams involved in protesting. Meanwhile, the president made clear that he thinks there should be a greater cost.