President Donald Trump extended an offer to the men and women of American sports leagues, asking for recommendations of people deserving a pardon. It is Trump’s latest response to the protests of league players, particularly in the NFL.
Starting with then-NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016, some players went on to kneel in protest before games while the anthem was playing. An often cited argument for the protests was a perception that people from minority groups are mistreated by the justice system.
Trump previously criticized the players for choosing a form of protest that’s disrespectful to the country. He even suggested the players should be fired.
Trump addressed the issue again when talking to reporters on Friday, before leaving for the G7 summit in Canada.
“You have a lot of people in the NFL in particular, but in sports leagues—they’re not proud enough to stand for our national anthem. I don’t like that,” he said and later added, “You should stand for our national anthem. You shouldn’t go in a locker room when our national anthem is played.”
“I am gonna ask all of those people to recommend to me, because that’s what they’re protesting, people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system,” he said. “I understand that. And I’m going to ask them to recommend to me people that were unfairly treated. Friends of theirs or people that they know about and I’m going to take a look at those applications and if I find, and my committee finds that they’re unfairly treated then we will pardon them or at least let them out.”
Trump’s move of putting critics in charge of the solution calls back to the way he handled environmental opposition to his golf courses, according to environmentalist Ed Russo.
Russo was the head of a local committee that tried to prevent Trump from building a golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Russo’s tactic, one he used on other developers before, was to impose environmental standards so high they would be impossible to meet, thus scuttling the project.
Instead of fighting him, Trump put Russo in charge of the project and gave him unlimited authority to make the most environmentally friendly golf course he could. Russo then went on to repeat that for 20 Trump golf courses thereafter. He said it forced him to live up to his own standards. He later wrote a book about his experience.
Trump’s point on players leaving for locker rooms during the anthem refers to a recent change in NFL policies that requires players to stand while on the field during the national anthem, but allows them to stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the anthem has been performed.
“I think that’s good,” Trump commented on the change. “I don’t think people should be staying in locker rooms but still, I think it’s good.”
NFL ratings dropped by about 10 percent last year—worse than the 8 percent drop the year before, Sports Illustrated reported.
Trump said he didn’t believe he was the major force behind the NFL policy change.
“I think the people pushed it forward. This was not me. I brought it out. I think the people pushed it forward,” he said.
The league decided to address the players’ concerns by creating a program to help the communities that the players feel are in need. Whatever the players donate, the clubs match. Together, they will decide how to use the money. ESPN reported last month that the funds amounted to $89 million.