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President Donald Trump sets stage for furthering feud with NFL

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Nearly three years after Donald Trump called NFL players protesting during the national anthem "a son of a b----" at a political rally in Alabama — sparking a surge in demonstrations across the league — the president continued to poke at the issue just before midnight Sunday night in a tweet directed at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. 

"Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell’s rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?," Trump tweeted from his official account. 

President Donald Trump appeared to criticize NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a tweet late Sunday night.

The reaction comes on the heels of the NFL and Goodell's response to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests across the country, challenging policing standards after the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of four Minneapolis officers. 

The NFL initially released a statement five days after Floyd's death. 

"As current events dramatically underscore, there remains much more to do as a country and as a league," the statement read. "These tragedies inform the NFL's commitment and our ongoing efforts. There remains an urgent need for action. We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society. We embrace that responsibility and are committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs and partners."

The generic statement did little to pacify brewing frustration from many of the league's players. Several star players, led by New Orleans Saints All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas, responded with a collaborative video, asking what it would take for the NFL to take their longstanding concerns seriously.

Goodell responded in a video message posted on social media, accepting blame on behalf of the league for not doing more

"We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people," he said. "We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all players to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe that black lives matter.

"Without black players, there would be no National Football League, and the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff. We are listening. I am listening. And I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve and go forward for a better and more united NFL family."

Goodell's mea culpa comes nearly four years after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first began taking a knee during the national anthem, citing the nation's oppression of people of color. 

Kaepernick, a dual-threat quarterback selected in the second round of the 2011 draft, led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in his first season as a starter. In six seasons with the 49ers, he posted a 28-30 record, throwing for 12,271 yards, 72 touchdowns and 30 interceptions while rushing for another 2,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. 

More: Colin Kaepernick: Timeline of a gesture and its echoes

More: Wojo: For the NFL and nation, the voices are too loud to ignore

But by 2017, at the age of 29, Kaepernick was unable to find another job. After accusing the league of collusion, he and former teammate Eric Reid, who also knelt during the anthem, reached a multi-million-dollar settlement with the NFL

Trump began criticizing protesting NFL players in 2017, culminating with the "son of a b----" statement. That led to league-wide demonstrations later that week, with several of the league's billionaire owners taking part to show support for their players. 

In October that year, vice president Mike Pence, walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game after several members of Kaepernick's former team, the 49ers, protested during the anthem. 

The NFL attempted to enact a policy requiring players on the field to stand for the anthem during the 2018 offseason, but quickly reversed course months later, before the start of the season. 

Trump has continued to express frustration over the years. In Aug. 2018, he tweeted, "Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their 'outrage' at something that most of them are unable to define. They make a fortune doing what they love. Be happy, be cool! A football game, that fans are paying soooo much money to watch and enjoy, is no place to protest. Most of that money goes to the players anyway. Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!"

With his latest message to Goodell on Sunday, Trump is showing he has no intention of letting up on the issue. 

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers