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Trump on his role in kneeling-protest controversy: 'Nothing to do with race'

President Trump at rally in Huntsville, Ala., on Sept. 22 (AFP/Getty Images)
President Trump at rally in Huntsville, Ala., on Sept. 22 (AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump declared Sunday that his strident speech in Alabama two days earlier, in which he denounced protests carried out mostly by African American pro football players, as well as a series of vehement tweets since then, had nothing to do with race.

Trump has carefully avoided overt mentions of race during days of angry criticism of players who kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice — or in some cases to protest being told they don’t have the right to protest.

But African Americans are a large majority in the National Football League, and made up nearly all the 130 players who knelt, sat or raised a fist in defiance before or during Sunday’s NFL games.

Afterward, asked by reporters if he was inflaming racial tensions, Trump replied with an emphatic negative.

“This has nothing to do with race,” he said as he prepared to board Air Force One for a short flight back to Washington after a weekend at his golf resort in New Jersey.  “I never said anything about race. This has nothing to do with race or anything else.”

He added: “This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.”

Many of the protesting players have tweeted or made statements to the effect that they mean the flag no disrespect, but that they believe racial injustice degrades American values.

At his Alabama speech, Trump told cheering supporters, nearly all of whom were white, that any protesting “son of a bitch” at an NFL game should be ordered off the field and fired. Asked Sunday whether he was troubled by criticism of that statement by his friend, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, the president said no.

“He’s a good friend of mine, and I want him to do what he wants to do,” he said of Kraft. He again depicted failing to stand for the anthem as a sign of disrespect for “our soldiers, our first responders.”

A number of military veterans have been among those offering online support to the protesting players.

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