SOMERSET, N.J. — President Trump on Sunday called for football fans to boycott N.F.L. games unless the league fires or suspends players who refuse to stand for the national anthem, saying that players must “stop disrespecting our flag and country.”
“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our country, you will see change take place fast,” Mr. Trump wrote, on the second weekend morning in a row in which he vented over the issue on social media. “Fire or suspend!”
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The tweet suggested that the president, who used an expletive on Friday night to refer to players who kneel or sit in protest during the anthem — a practice that took hold last season among some African-American players after Colin Kaepernick, the now-former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, did so to protest racial and social injustice — is bent on deepening a bitter culture-war fight with the N.F.L.
It is a highly charged debate, with unmistakable racial undertones, pitting advocates of free speech who argue that professional athletes should have a right to use their positions to call attention to social issues against those who contend that refusing to honor the anthem disrespects the military and the nation, and that sports is no place for such displays.
In a second posting on Sunday morning, the president suggested that fans were already punishing the N.F.L. to protest players’ behavior, arguing that they were eschewing not only the “boring games,” but also athletes who fall to one knee during the anthem.
In fact, the decline in attendance predates the anthem protests, and while N.F.L. television ratings did dip last season, it is unclear whether the protests or other factors, like the presidential election and cord-cutting, caused the drop. At a rally on Friday in Huntsville, Ala., the president alluded to those factors, saying that the “No. 1 reason” ratings were down “massively” was that “they like watching what’s happening with yours truly.”
Mr. Trump first raised the protest issue at the Huntsville rally, where he also suggested that officials who penalize players for hitting too hard during games were “ruining the game.” On Saturday, in a series of early-morning tweets, the president pressed his N.F.L. criticism and took on top basketball players as well, saying he had disinvited the N.B.A. champion Golden State Warriors from a planned White House visit because of their star player Stephen Curry’s public opposition to him.
The fight has struck a chord with many of Mr. Trump’s core supporters, some of whom applauded him on social media for his stance. But it drew harsh denunciations from many prominent African-American players, including LeBron James, and an unusually strong rebuke from Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the N.F.L., whose owners include many donors to, and friends of, the president.
Mr. Trump struck back at Mr. Goodell on Saturday evening, nearly 12 hours after he had first raised the topic on Twitter, tweeting that the commissioner’s statement was “trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.”
“Tell them to stand!” Mr. Trump added.
Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, who is a close friend of Mr. Trump’s and who has spent the night at the White House and ridden with him on Air Force One, issued a pointed statement on Sunday in which he said he was “deeply disappointed with the tone of the comments made by the president” at the rally, and defended players’ right to express themselves.
“Our players are intelligent, thoughtful, and care deeply about their community, and I support their right to peacefully effect social change and raise awareness in a manner they feel is most impactful,” Mr. Kraft said.