President Trump is once again seizing on the politics of the NFL as the league grapples with the years-long mishandling of peaceful player protests.
Trump recently said free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick deserves a job in the NFL, but on Friday he suggested that the former 49er's potential return shouldn't herald a resurgence of the protests.
Trump also took aim at White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, a day after Fauci suggested it would be difficult to play football this season because of the global pandemic.
"Tony Fauci has nothing to do with NFL Football," Trump said on Twitter. "They are planning a very safe and controlled opening. However, if they don’t stand for our National Anthem and our Great American Flag, I won’t be watching!!!
Fauci's comments, reported by CNN, seemed out of step with the NFL's stated intent to play its season in 2020. The league was not known to have responded to Fauci's assessment.
The kneeling was started by Kaepernick in 2016 in protest of police brutality, and became an issue on the campaign trail for Trump, and later into his presidency. In 2017 he referred to player protesters as "sons of bitches," inflaming an already fraught situation for the league and its players.
The protests had largely faded and Kaepernick remained unsigned, but the brutal killing of George Floyd once again ignited passions over racial inequalities and social justice that have roiled the US in recent years and throughout its history.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees, one of the faces of the league, initially spoke out against the prospect of resumed player protests, saying he could never approve of "disrespecting the flag." Brees apologized after the ensuing backlash from many fans and fellow players, including some of his own teammates.
Trump waded back into the debate soon after, saying Brees never should have apologized, later adding that Brees would one day come to regret it when the political climate changes.
Meanwhile the NFL has apologized to black players and fans for mishandling of the protests, and Commissioner Roger Goodell later said he encourages any interested team to sign Kaepernick.