While speaking at a campaign rally Friday night for Sen. Luther Strange, President Trump called for NFL players to be fired for protesting the national anthem.
The Huntsville, Ala. crowd roared after Trump said he would like to see the head of an NFL team punish players who protest the playing of the song.
"Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a b---- off the field right now. Out. He's fired. He's fired!”
The audience then burst into chants of "USA!"
"You know, some owner's going to do that," Trump continued. "He's going to say, 'That guy who disrespects our flag, he's fired.'"
Though Trump didn't name any players specifically, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick gained both widespread criticism and praise during the 2016 season for taking such a stance.
Kaepernick, now an unsigned free agent, protested what he described as police brutality in the United States by dropping to one knee while the national anthem was played before games.
Throughout the 2016 season and now into the 2017 season, other players have followed suit, some taking a knee and others remaining seated or raising a fist during the anthem.
Trump encouraged fans to walk out of a game if a player was protesting the anthem.
"But you know what’s hurting the game more than that?" Trump said. "When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they are playing our great national anthem.
"The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium, I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore anyway."
NFL players respond back to Trump
Soon after Trump's remarks, current and former NFL players, along with others supporting the anthem protests, began chiming in on social media.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews was among the first NFL players to post about Trump's comments.
He indicated that he did "have trust in this country, whoever is leading it, & for damn sure the Flag," but criticized Trump calling for the firing of players with whom he disagreed.
"It is 2017 PEOPLE!" Matthews wrote in a caption on Instagram underneath a video clip of the remarks. "EVERYONES BELIEFS DO NOT NEED TO BE THE SAME AS YOURS!"
I'm a full supporter of the Flag & This country! Trust Me! But this can't be real! https://t.co/GAPkZPB8hz— Rishard Matthews (@_RMatthews) September 23, 2017
Cincinnati Bengals' safety George Iloka called the president "our Celebrity in Chief."
I can’t take anything our Celebrity in Chief says seriously. He’s a real life clown/troll 🤡— George Iloka (@George_iloka) September 23, 2017
Zach Brown, an inside lineback for the Washington Redskins, called for Trump to "stay in (his) place."
Trump stay in ur place... football have nothing to do wit u smh— Zach Brown (@ZachBrown_55) September 23, 2017
Activist Shaun King tweeted that he had "heard from nearly 100 current professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and even MLB who all took great offense to Trump's words tonight."
King also wrote that he had spoken with the NFL Players Association, which he claimed would be releasing a response on "this foolishness from Trump."
I've heard from nearly 100 current professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and even MLB who all took great offense to Trump's words tonight https://t.co/iWFzegSfgj— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) September 23, 2017
Retired NFL player Husain Abdullah, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs, tweeted that the NFL "better set the tone with this response."
Former Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens player Shannon Sharpe tweeted that without a teleprompter, the nation got "the real 45" with Trump's comments.
Terrance Knighton, former Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos player, encouraged other NFL players to begin taking a knee.
I hope more players kneel https://t.co/FjBHNhESh0— Terrance Knighton (@MisterRoast98) September 23, 2017
Cecil Shorts, a current free agent and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player, tweeted that Trump's remarks in Alabama were "unbelievable," and rebuked trump for not taking a firm stance against neo-Nazis.
"I wish you had this same energy when it mattered @realDonaldTrump," Shorts wrote.
Unbelievable what he just said!! https://t.co/K5H58E3h43— Cecil Shorts III (@CecilShortsIII) September 23, 2017
You didn't call the neo nazis out there name?? I wish you had this same energy when it mattered @realDonaldTrump— Cecil Shorts III (@CecilShortsIII) September 23, 2017
© 2017 USATODAY.COM