President Donald Trump applauded a new National Football League policy requiring players to stand for the national anthem, but said he didn’t like that team owners would allow players to remain in the locker room during the pregame ceremony.
“I don’t think people should be staying in locker rooms, but still I think it’s good,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News that aired Thursday. “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. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, and the NFL owners did the right thing.”
The move to mandate that players stand came after Trump repeatedly criticized athletes protesting issues including police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem. Trump had said the league was “going to hell” unless they prohibited the behavior. He drew condemnation from players and owners when he said during an Alabama campaign speech that owners should say “get that son of a bitch off the field” and fire those participating in the protest.
The new NFL policy subjects teams to a fine if players or other team personnel fail to show “respect” to the national anthem. The league has not said how much in fines teams will face, or explicitly defined the term “respect,” though commissioner Roger Goodell said in a press conference that the league wanted “people to stand.”
But the policy came under fire from some critics who say it infringes on players’ First Amendment rights.
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL players’ union, tweeted that owners had “chosen to quash the same freedom of speech that protects someone who wants to salute the flag in an effort to prevent someone who does not wish to do so.”
The union has said it would review the new rule and challenge any element it determined to be a violation of the collective bargaining agreement between owners and players.
Trump said in the interview broadcast Thursday that he hadn’t seen the new policy prior to his answer but “NFL owners did the right thing with that if that’s what they’ve done.” He added that while he “brought the story forward,” the American people deserved credit for the new policy.
“This country is very smart; we have very smart people and, you know, that’s something ideally could have been taken care of when it first started, it would have been a lot easier, but if they did that, they did the right thing,” he said.