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Trump clashes with sports stars over player protests

US president calls on National Football League owners to fire players who protest against racism during national anthem.

TakeAKnee

President Donald Trump and several US sports stars have clashed online after he called for National Football League owners to fire players who protest during the US national anthem.

Trump on Sunday was accused of creating division in professional sports after he attacked players from the NFL and the National Basketball Association on Twitter, and those leagues have been hitting back.

In a series of tweets, the president called for the suspension or firing of players "disrespecting our flag and country".

He then claimed that NFL ratings and attendance were low because the games have been "boring".

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell condemned Trump's comments.

"The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture," he said.

"Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities."

At least seven team owners donated $1m each to Trump's inaugural committee.

But Los Angeles Chargers owner Dean Spanos, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York were among the league power-brokers who issued condemning statements through their clubs.

"The callous and offensive comments made by the president are contradictory to what this great country stands for," York said.

"Our players have exercised their rights as United States citizens in order to spark conversation and action to address social injustice. We will continue to support them in their peaceful pursuit of positive change in our country and around the world."

#TakeAKnee

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stirred a national debate in 2016 after refusing to stand during pre-game renditions of the "Star Spangled Banner".

Instead, Kaepernick put one knee to the ground to protest against police violence against African-Americans. Several players have since made similar gestures of protest before games.

The union representing professional football players also rejected Trump's comments, saying it would defend their right to freedom of expression.

The White House could not be reached immediately to comment on the statements by Goodell or the union.

NBA players also struck back against comments by the president on Saturday.

In an early morning Twitter message on Saturday, the president rescinded a White House invitation to basketball star Stephen Curry, who had said he would "vote" against the planned visit by the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

"Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!" Trump tweeted.

Curry told a news conference in Oakland, California: "It's beneath the leader of a country to go that route." "It's not what leaders do," he said.

The Oakland-based Golden State Warriors said in a statement the team had intended to meet to discuss the potential visit at the first opportunity on Saturday morning.

"We accept that President Trump has made it clear that we are not invited," the team said.

LeBron James came to Curry's defense, disputing Trump's assertion that visiting the White House was an honour.

"Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!" James, a prominent supporter of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential elections, said on Twitter.

Singer Stevie Wonder appeared to evoke protests by Kaepernick and other athletes when he put one knee to the stage during a concert at the Global Citizen Festival in New York City on Saturday.

"Tonight, I'm taking a knee for America," Wonder told the audience as his son, Kwame Morris, helped him down. 

Wonder then put his other leg down so that he was kneeling and facing the cheering crowd, with his son doing the same.

"I'm taking both knees," Wonder said. "Both knees in prayer for our planet, our future, our leaders of the world and our globe."


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