WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump dismissed claims that he has been preoccupied with the NFL controversy, saying that it's an important part of the function of a president to respect the country.
"I was ashamed at what was taking place, because to me that was a very important moment. I don't think you can disrespect our country, our flag, our national anthem," Trump said in the Rose Garden of the White House during a joint press conference with Spanish Mariano Rajoy.
After Friday, when Trump called on NFL owners to fire players who refuse to stand for the national anthem, hundreds of players and other NFL staff refused to stand in protest.
"It doesn't take me long to put out a wrong, and maybe we'll get it right," Trump said. He has tweeted about the NFL every day since making the statements on Friday at a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama.
Trump dismissed a reporter's question asking if he was preoccupied with the issue. "Not at all, not at all. I have plenty of time on my hands, all I do is work."
The president indeed had a jam-packed schedule on Tuesday. He received a daily intelligence briefing, met with bipartisan members of the House Committee on Ways and Means for an hour, received a briefing on hurricane recovery efforts, had a working luncheon with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, gave a joint press conference with the Spanish Prime Minister, then left to travel to New York. In New York, Trump will participate in a U.S. mission greeting at the United Nations, will meet with the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), will participate in a roundtable with RNC supporters, give remarks at the RNC finance dinner, and then return to Washington, D.C., at 10:40 p.m.
Trump announced on Tuesday that he will be traveling to hurricane-struck Puerto Rico next week. “It’s the earliest I can go because of the first responders and we don’t want to disrupt the relief efforts,” he said. “The island is devastated … it’s literally destroyed.”
Respect for CountryTrump said that his response to the NFL controversy was an important function of his work. "It's called respect for our country," he said.
"Many people have died. Many, many people. Many people are so horribly injured. I was at Walter Reed Hospital recently and I saw so many great young people and they're missing legs and they're missing arms and they're so badly injured. And they were fighting for our country, they were fighting for our flag, they were fighting for our national anthem," Trump said.
The trend of NFL players kneeling, instead of standing, for the national anthem started last season when 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to first sit on the bench, and later kneel during the national anthem.
"For people to disrespect that by kneeling during the playing of our national anthem, I think is disgraceful," Trump said.
Many NFL fans have reacted with outrage as more players have been kneeling. Fans have been booing them in the stadium and some posted videos on social media showing their NFL fan gear burning.
Loud booing could be heard on Monday night when the Dallas Cowboys' entire staff—including coaches and team owner Jerry Jones—decided to take a knee before the national anthem started. They stood during the anthem.