(USA Today) - WASHINGTON – President Trump says most Americans agree with his attacks on protesting football players who kneel during the national anthem – and claims so do some National Football League owners.
"They say, 'We are in a situation where we have to do something,' " Trump said in an interview broadcast Thursday on Fox & Friends. "I think they're afraid of their players, you want to know the truth."
Trump's assertion that the team owners were "afraid" sparked backlash on social media, where users pointed out that most of those players are African-American.
The critics included ESPN broadcaster Jemele Hill, who had a dust-up with the White House this month after calling Trump a white supremacist.
"Oh my, we have reached peak racial demagoguery," Hill tweeted on Thursday.
Oh my, we have reached peak racial demagoguery. https://t.co/jlXmpDZbHd— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 28, 2017
It's been nearly a week since Trump began to fire a spate of criticism against NFL players who kneeled during the national anthem to protest racial and social injustice, saying the action showed disrespect to the flag. Trump's comments inspired more players to kneel this past weekend, some of them in protest of the president.
In his Fox interview, Trump disputed the suggestion that the NFL debate has been a distraction from more important issues.
"There's been no distraction," Trump said. "But the NFL cannot disrespect our country. They cannot disrespect our flag or our national anthem."
This week's NFL play starts Thursday night when Green Bay hosts Chicago.