Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump came under harsh criticism Saturday from the NFL and some of the NBA’s top players after he blasted prominent athletes for kneeling during the national anthem and refusing to come to the White House, putting himself at the middle of a controversy with significant racial and cultural undertones.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell slammed Trump in a statement Saturday afternoon, calling the President “divisive” for remarks he made at a rally in Alabama Friday night, while one of the most famous athletes in the world, LeBron James, called Trump a “bum” for his Saturday morning tweet uninviting Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry from visiting the White House.
The Golden State Warriors issued a statement later Saturday accepting Trump’s dis-invitation.
“While we intended to meet as a team at the first opportunity we had this morning to collaboratively discuss a potential visit to the White House, we accept that President Trump has made it very clear that we are not encouraged,” the team said.
The statement added that while the team will not be visiting the White House, its players will still come to the nation’s capital in February “to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion — the values that we adopt as an organization.”
Former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant also tweeted a rebuke of Trump.
Trump’s Twitter response
Trump responded to the criticismsSaturday in a series of tweets, saying that playing for a sports league is a “privilege” and that players should not be able to disrespect the American flag or the US without risking being “fired.”
Later, he added of Goodell’s criticism: “Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement seeking to justify the entire disrespect certain players show to our country. Tell them to stand!”
The President’s Twitter posts continued Sunday morning, saying if fans stayed away from the games because of the players’ protests, “you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”
Trump then focused on recent attendance in some NFL games and said ratings were “way down.”
“Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.,” he tweeted.
Trump’s tweets and harsh reaction emphasize an extraordinary moment — the President, NFL commissioner and top basketball players embroiled in a public fight over unity and patriotism.
New York Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch known as Trump’s NFL comments “inappropriate” on Saturday.
“Comments like we heard last night from the president are inappropriate, offensive and divisive,” their statement said. “We are proud of our players, the vast majority of whom use their NFL platform to make a positive difference in our society.”
Several team owners voiced similar comments.
“There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics,” Kraft said in a statement Sunday. “I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal.”
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said the country needed “unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness.”
“I know our players who kneeled for the anthem and these are smart young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone,” Ross said in a statement Saturday.
“We all have the responsibility to use this platform to promote understanding, respect and equality,” he added.
San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York known as Trump’s remarks “callous and offensive” and “contradictory to what this great country stands for.”
“Our players have exercised their rights as United States citizens in order to spark conversation and action to address social injustice,” York said in a statement Saturday. “We will continue to support them in their peaceful pursuit of positive change in our country and around the world.”
Trump’s remarks at rally
Trump seemed to be speaking to Colin Kaepernick — formerly with the San Francisco 49ers, but now without a team — who last year attracted nationwide attention for refusing to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” prior to kickoff.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media at August 2016.
Then, on Saturday morning, Trump tweeted that Curry’s invitation to the White House was revoked.
“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” Trump wrote.
Curry had commented at the Warriors’ media day Friday that he doesn’t want to attend the White House ceremony scheduled to commemorate the title.
“‘By acting and not going, hopefully that will inspire some change when it comes to what we tolerate in this country and what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye to,” Curry told reporters. ” It’s not just the act of not going. There are things you have to do on the back end to actually push that message into motion.”
Athletes, entertainers respond
James was one of the first athletes to react to Trump on Saturday.
“U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going!” James tweeted. “So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”
Many of the reactions to Trump’s tweets emphasized the inherent racial tensions some consider at issue.
Legend continued with a series of tweets aimed at the President.
In a video released Saturday afternoon, music producer and rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs called for members of the NFL to do something “really great” on Sunday, when most of the week’s football games will be played. He added: “You all represent us.”
“If you do whatever you do in unity, you can’t be stopped,” Combs said in the movie. “Just do the math man. Stick together, stand up together, rally for each other. Because believe me, we’re all we got — it has nothing to do with football and business.”
“Tonight, I’m taking a knee for America; but not just one knee, I’m taking both knees,” he said on stage before his performance in the Global Citizen Festival.
“Both knees in prayer for our planet, our future, our leaders of the world and our globe. Amen.”
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on Trump’s tweet about Curry and whether the invitation will be withdrawn.
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