Wave of player protests sweep NFL after Trump criticism
Thearon W. Henderson (GETTY/AFP/File)
The first mass protest took place at the NFL's London game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens at Wembley Stadium.
A large number of players from both teams knelt during the playing of the anthem while others stood with their arms interlocked.
Among those linking arms with the players was Jacksonville owner Shad Khan, who donated $1 million to Trump's election campaign in 2016.
Khan later issued a statement decrying Trump's recent comments as "divisive and contentious."
"That's why it was important for us, and personally for me, to show the world that even if we may differ at times, we can and should be united in the effort to become better as people and a nation," Khan said.
The London protests were emulated across the United States as matches kicked off.
In Foxborough, around 15 members of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots kneeled during the national anthem.
Star quarterback Tom Brady linked arms with his team-mates. Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a friend of Trump who also donated to his campaign, issued a statement saying he was "deeply disappointed" by Trump's remarks on Friday.
In Chicago, the Pittsburgh Steelers chose to remain in their locker room during the anthem ahead of their clash with the Bears.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who is black, said the decision was not intended to be disrespectful but rather calculated to "remove ourselves from the circumstance."
"These are very divisive times for our country," Tomlin told CBS television. "For us as a football team, it's about remaining solid."
A lone Steelers player -- former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva -- stood just outside the player's tunnel to observe the anthem.
In Detroit meanwhile, the singer of the national anthem Rico LaVelle dramatically dropped to his knee at the end of his rendition.
At least eight Detroit Lions players were seen kneeling during the anthem while others linked arms ahead of their game with the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons players including team owner Arthur Blank also joined arms.
More than 20 Cleveland Browns players kneeled during the anthem for their game against the Colts in Indianapolis.
- Trump calls for NFL boycott -
US President Donald Trump on Sunday urged fans to boycott National Football League games to pressure the league to fire or suspend players who show disrespect for "Flag and Country."
Trump's latest Twitter salvo was the latest blow in an escalating war of words with some of professional sports' biggest stars over his condemnation of NFL players protesting the national anthem.
"If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag and Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!" he said.
"NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.," he said.
The row began on Friday at a Republican rally in Alabama when Trump attacked activist National Football League players -- mostly African Americans -- as "sons of bitches" for kneeling or sitting during renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
On the same day, basketball star Stephen Curry, the top player for California's Golden State Warriors, said he would not attend a traditional White House reception honoring the winning basketball team.
Several hours later, Trump hit back with an early-morning Twitter salvo.
- 'You bum' -
"Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!" he wrote.
Trump's outburst drew a stinging response from across the NBA, with Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James among the first to weigh in.
"U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going!" James wrote on Twitter. "So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up."
The protests began last year when quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers refused to stand for the anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality.
Several more players have since joined in, nearly all of them black.
Kaepernick, who was unable to land a job with a team this season, has attracted support from his peers but also some backlash.
The 29-year-old said he started his protests because he wanted to spark a nationwide debate on racial injustice and police brutality.
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The NFL and their players should just go to China and play with their balls , you look at President XI the wrong way or disrespect China or embarrass your nation , you little snowflakes would be no more.