President Donald Trump seemed to score a victory Tuesday in his fight against National Football League players who kneel during the national anthem.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell initially came to the defense of players who kneeled after Trump first criticized them during a September rally. Goodell’s tone, however, shifted Tuesday.
“The current dispute over the national anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a statement sent to league chief executives and team presidents. “Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem…We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”
“Trump won this culture war,” CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski said in response to this statement.
Several NFL players have knelt during the anthem after former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting in 2016.
“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed,” Kaepernick said at the time. “To me, this is something that has to change.”
The players protesting during the anthem have cited combating police brutality and racism as their cause. Trump and allies, however, believe the protests are disrespectful to American troops.
“Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!” Trump said NFL owners should tell protesting players during a late September rally.
Just seven NFL players knelt in protest the week before Trump made comments at an Alabama rally. Trump’s remarks caused an uproar that led to more than 200 NFL players protesting during the national anthem.
The president maintained, however, over Twitter and in his rally speech that the protests will stop through fan boycotts.
“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast,” Trump tweeted.
NFL ratings have been dropping throughout the season, but the league denied in an internal memo that this is due to anthem protests.
Recent polling found that nearly two-thirds of Americans think players should stand during the anthem.