Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stood by President Donald Trump in his feud with the NFL over the league allowing players to protest by kneeling during the National Anthem. Mnuchin told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he wants to see the NFL put in a rule to make players stand and they can “have the right for free speech off the field.”
Mnuchin began by telling Tapper that the NFL has various rules already and the owners should meet and vote to add another one forcing players to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“This is about respect for our military, this is about respect for our first responders. This is not about Republicans or Democrats. Players have the right for free speech off the field,” Mnuchin said. “On the field, this is about respect for lots of people and I don’t understand why there’s rules that when the Dallas Cowboys wanted to put stickers on their helmets out of respect for people there, they couldn’t do it. But now the NFL is saying people should be allowed to decide what they want to do and disrespect the United States flag.”
Mnuchin is referring to an incident last year, when the NFL refused to let the Cowboys wear a sticker supporting Dallas police officers. However, all three Florida teams and the Houston Texans were allowed to wear stickers to support relief for Hurricane Harvey and Irma victims. Mnuchin didn’t mention this.
“He thinks this is about respect for the military and so many people that put their lives at risk for what the country stands for,” Mnuchin said. “The owners should meet, and they should decide on this rule the same way they decide on any other rule.”
The president turned his attention to the NFL players’ protests during a Friday rally in Hunstville, Alabama that was supposed to be in support of Alabama Senator Luther Strange. Instead, he took time out of his speech to refer to NFL players as “sons of bitches” and called for NFL owners to fire players who kneel during the anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said during the speech. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
Before games began on Sunday, Trump continued the rhetoric on Twitter. “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,” he wrote. “NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.”
The protests started last year, when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelled during the National Anthem to protest the treatment of African Americans by police officers. Dozens of other players joined him and, although Kaepernick hasn’t been re-signed himself, no player has been fired for doing so.