Los Angeles Chargers quaterback Philip Rivers kneeling at StubHub Center
Los Angeles Chargers quaterback Philip Rivers kneeling at StubHub Center. Image from Chargers Twitter feed

Los Angeles Chargers owner Dean Spanos joined other NFL owners Sunday in voicing his support for the right of players to kneel during the national anthem, as such protests increased in the wake of sharp criticism from President Donald Trump.

“I have tremendous respect for our flag and the men and women who defend it. Ours is the greatest nation in the world, one in which people are able to speak freely and stand up publicly for their beliefs,” Spanos said. “Our players, as do all Americans, have every right to speak their mind and from their heart. It was an honor to join them on the field today.”

A few Chargers kneeled during the anthem before Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs at StubHub Center in Carson, while a few more remained on the bench. Several Chiefs players kneeled as well.

Sunday football began with an early morning game between the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars from London, where several players on both teams kneeled and locked arms during the playing of the anthem. Players on other NFL teams followed suit before games around the league Sunday. Two singers of the anthem even kneeled symbolically at the end of their performances, in Tennessee and Detroit.

Trump slammed players during a speech in Alabama on Friday, saying “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!’ You know some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag; he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it. They’re friends of mine, many of them. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in this country.”

In response, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hit back at the president on Saturday.

“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,” Goodell said.

Several owners of other NFL teams also issued statements in response to the president’s comments, including New York Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York.

Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke said in a statement issued Sunday, “The Los Angeles Rams, our fan base and our city are all comprised of people from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs.

“When we recognize that this diversity is our strength and seek to understand different perspectives, we are more enlightened and empathetic human beings,” Kroenke continued. “Our organization is committed to celebrating diversity, inclusion and respect, values that help define Los Angeles. We are proud of the work that our players and all NFL players do to make our communities better places to live.

“We believe in the tenets of the national anthem, which is a pillar of this country; just as freedom of speech is another pillar and a constitutional right,” Kroenke added. “We will continue to support our players’ freedom to peacefully express themselves and the meaningful efforts they make to bring about positive change in our country.”

Trump was asked about the issue again Sunday as he boarded Air Force One at Morristown Municipal Airport in New Jersey.

Asked if players who kneel for the anthem should be fired, Trump said, “I think the owners should do something about it. I think it’s very disrespectful to our flag and to our country. … There was great solidarity — I watched a little bit,” Trump continued. “I was not watching the games today, believe me — I’m doing other things. But I watched a little bit, and I will say that there was tremendous solidarity for our flag and for our country.”

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the protests last season by refusing to remain standing during the playing of the anthem, as a protest against the treatment of African-Americans in the United States. His feelings were prompted in part by a series of high-profile cases of law enforcement officers shooting unarmed African-Americans over the last few years.

Kaepernick is now out of a job, which many NFL players and analysts have attributed to his anthem protests.

–City News Service, staff