Lions president Ron Wood on players protesting during the national anthem. Daniel Mears / The Detroit News
Allen Park — Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford on Sunday joined a growing group of NFL owners decrying comments from President Donald Trump calling on league owners to fire players who “disrespect” the flag and protest during the national anthem.
“Our game has long provided a powerful platform for dialogue and positive change in many communities throughout our nation,” Ford wrote in a statement. “Thanks primarily to our players, the NFL also has been a unifying force in our country and impactful change has and hopefully will continue to be the result of peaceful expression, done so in order to highlight social injustices of all kind.
“Negative and disrespectful comments suggesting otherwise are contrary to the founding principles of our country, and we do not support those comments or opinions.”
At an Alabama rally to support Republican U.S. Senate candidate Luther Strange on Friday, Trump went on the offensive against NFL players who have protested racial inequality during the national anthem, focusing on those have chosen to kneel.
Trump continued in on the protesting players with a pair of tweets on Saturday.
“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect,” Trump wrote.
Again in a Sunday morning tweet, Trump urged his supporters to take action: “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!”
Lions president Rod Wood, speaking hours before the team’s kickoff with the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field, didn’t know if the team's players had plans to demonstrate, but the organization supports whatever they decide to do.
“I don’t know anything that’s going to happen,” Wood said. “I have not heard anything. I talked to Coach (Jim Caldwell) last night. I talked to Coach this morning. I think the players know we support them. We’ll see what they decide to do, but I’m not worried about it.”
Wood emphasized there would be no ramifications if any Lions players decide to protest.
In a Sunday morning game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens, held in London, more than 20 players knelt during the anthem, while many others linked arms. Joining the players linking arms was Jaguars owner Shad Khan, a Muslim and Trump donor. He gave $1 million to the then-candidate’s presidential campaign.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who has been a strong supporter of the president, expressed “deep disappointment” with Trump on Sunday and said politicians could learn much from the unifying spirit of a competitive enterprise like professional football that succeeds from teamwork.
“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President …,” Kraft said in a statement. “Our players are intelligent, thoughtful, and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement Saturday, denouncing Trump’s message.
“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture," Goodell said in the statement. "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. 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."
It is widely anticipated there will be demonstrations before Sunday's NFL games, with some analysts expecting hundreds of players to participate.
In addition to the situation with the NFL, Trump is also engaged in a public spat with the NBA. He claimed to revoke a White House invitation to current champions, the Golden State Warriors, after the team announced it was meeting to decide whether to take the visit in the first place.
“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” Trump tweeted Saturday.
The Warriors released this statement in response:
“We accept that President Trump has made it clear that we are not invited. We believe there is nothing more American than our citizens having the right to express themselves freely on matters important to them," the statement read. "We're disappointed that we did not have an opportunity during this process to share our views or have open dialogue on issues impacting our communities that we felt would be important to raise."