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NFL Responds To Trump As President Renews Debate Over National Anthem

Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell become the first major league baseball player to kneel during the national anthem a the start of a game against the Texas Rangers on Saturday in Oakland, Calif.

It seemed like the controversy involving NFL players kneeling during the national anthem had died down a bit — that is until President Trump stirred up a hornet's nest Friday night during a campaign trip to Alabama.

Trump unleashed a tirade of strong comments against NFL players who don't stand during the playing of "The Star Spangled Banner."

Kneeling during the national anthem in protest over perceived social injustices against African-Americans began last year.

A handful of white players didn't stand Sunday, but the vast majority of those actively protesting were black, The Associated Press reports.

Trump's take: It's unpatriotic and NFL team owners should fire those refusing to stand.

Trump's comments festered over the weekend and by the various game times on Sunday, roughly 200 players sat, knelt or raised their fists in defiance during the anthem.

Most of the players locked arms with their teammates — some coaches and team owners also joined in.

Other teams, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, stayed off the field until the anthem was finished. One Steeler, Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva, ventured out of the tunnel and placed his hand over his heart during the singing of the anthem.

A week ago, fewer than 10 players protested.

The last NFL game of the day, Washington hosted Oakland, was played in Landover, Md. — not far from the White House.

Most of Oakland's team sat on their bench during the anthem while most of Washington's team stood arm-in-arm along with owner Dan Snyder and president Bruce Allen.

Trump tweeted earlier on Sunday: "Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!"

The Associated Press reports that among the strongest criticisms of the president was from New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton:

"I'm disappointed in the comments that were made. I think we need a little bit more wisdom in that office," he said of the White House. "I want that guy to be one of the smarter guys in the room and it seems like every time he's opening up his mouth it's something that is dividing our country and not pulling us together.' "

Kneeling during the national anthem began as a protest more than a year ago when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the song as a protest of police treatment of minorities.

This season, no team has signed him, and some supporters believe NFL owners are avoiding him because of the controversy.

Trump's comments may have helped to publicize a cause that not all NFL fans were aware of.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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