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NFL owners respond day after President Trump criticizes player protests

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Trump wants to see NFL players fired for kneeling during anthem (0:47)

At a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, President Donald Trump told the crowd he would "love" for NFL owners to punish players for protesting during the national anthem. (0:47)

Owners of the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants were among those across the league who responded Saturday to President Donald Trump, who one night earlier said he wished NFL players who protest during the national anthem would be fired and later Saturday called out commissioner Roger Goodell directly.

Reaction across the NFL was widespread, with many team owners and players either issuing statements or posting their thoughts on social media.

"The callous and offensive comments made by the President are contradictory to what this great country stands for," 49ers CEO Jed 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."

During a political rally in Alabama on Friday, President Trump said of player protests: "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He's fired! He's fired!'"

Responding to those comments in a statement Saturday morning, commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL is at its best "when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture."

"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," Goodell said, in part, in a statement, referencing Trump.

The president responded to that statement later Saturday.

Other owners or team presidents backed the commissioner after his initial statement. Among those who spoke out:

Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy: "It's unfortunate that the President decided to use his immense platform to make divisive and offensive statements about our players and the NFL. We strongly believe that players are leaders in our communities and positive influences. They have achieved their positions through tremendous work and dedication and should be celebrated for their success and positive impact. We believe it is important to support any of our players who choose to peacefully express themselves with the hope of change for good. As Americans, we are fortunate to be able to speak openly and freely."

Stephen Ross of the Miami Dolphins: "Our country needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness. We need to seek to understand each other and have civil discourse instead of condemnation and sound bites."

Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch: "Comments like we heard last night from the President are inappropriate, offensive and divisive. We are proud of our players, the vast majority of whom use their NFL platform to make a positive difference in our society."

The Buffalo Bills, meanwhile, said they had a team meeting Saturday night to discuss what owners Terry and Kim Pegula called "divisive and disrespectful" remarks by Trump.

"Our players have the freedom to express themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner and we all agreed that our sole message is to provide and to promote an environment that is focused on love and equality," the Bills said in a statement.

The NFLPA also released an expanded statement Saturday morning, saying that it makes "no apologies" for protecting the rights of its members, which include freedom of speech.

On Sunday morning, more owners chimed in with statements, including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who became the first NFL owner who made a donation to Trump to speak out on his comments.

"I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday," Kraft said. "I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger.

"There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful."

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, another contributor to the Trump campaign, said the President's comments "were divisive and counterproductive to what our country needs right now," and used the team's contributions during Hurricane Harvey as an example of unity.

"I hope the reaction from our players results in positive action for our league, our communities and our country as a whole to make a positive difference in our society. Texans players are caring, intelligent men who do so much good, as was shown in the past month when our city was devastated by Hurricane Harvey," McNair said. "I have never been more proud of our players and our team than during this time. It was a display of what is truly possible when we all work together. We will continue to support our players to work together to promote the values of respect and unity."

Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke, another contributor to the Trump campaign, issued a statement supporting his players' right to protest, but did not single out the President.

"The Los Angeles Rams, our fan base and our city are all comprised of people from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. When we recognize that this diversity is our strength and seek to understand different perspectives, we are more enlightened and empathetic human beings. Our organization is committed to celebrating diversity, inclusion and respect, values that help define Los Angeles. ...

"We believe in the tenets of the national anthem, which is a pillar of this country; just as freedom of speech is another pillar and a constitutional right. We will continue to support our players' freedom to peacefully express themselves and the meaningful efforts they make to bring about positive change in our country."

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis told ESPN's Paul Gutierrez on Sunday that he "can no longer ask our team to not say something while they are in a Raider uniform." He explained that last year, he had discussed with some players, including Derek Carr and Khalil Mack, that he would prefer if they not protest while wearing the team's uniform.

"Over the last year, though, the streets have gotten hot and there has been a lot of static in the air and recently, fuel has been added to the fire," Davis told ESPN on Sunday. "... The only thing I can ask them to do is do it with class. Do it with pride. Not only do we have to tell people there is something wrong, we have to come up with answers. That's the challenge in front of us as Americans and human beings."

The New Orleans Pelicans, in a joint statement Sunday with the New Orleans Saints, said in part, "Our organization takes great pride in equality and inclusion and find the comments by the President disappointing and inappropriate relative to our players on this issue. [Owner] Tom Benson served in the military and continues to this day to support all military branches and feels strongly that we honor those men and women who defend our freedoms and our freedom of speech. He also believes that the very players that represent the Saints and Pelicans organizations should be allowed to share or express their feelings.

"We prefer to take this moment in time and work together, all of us, to stop the divisiveness."

Minnesota Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf issued a statement on behalf of the family: "Professional sports offer a platform unlike any other, a platform that can bring people from a variety of backgrounds together to impact positive change in our society. As owners, it is our job to foster an environment that recognizes and appreciates diversity of thought and encourages using this platform in a constructive manner.

"Rather than make divisive statements, we believe in promoting thoughtful, inspiring conversation that unifies our communities. We are proud of our players, coaches and staff for the important role they play in our community, and we fully support their constitutional right to respectfully and peacefully express their beliefs.

Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti via statement: "We recognize our players' influence. We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent. All voices need to be heard. That's democracy in its highest form."

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan stood with the players during the anthem prior to Sunday's game in London.

"It was a privilege to stand on the sidelines with the Jacksonville Jaguars today for the playing of the U.S. national anthem at Wembley Stadium," Khan said in a statement. "I met with our team captains prior to the game to express my support for them, all NFL players and the league following the divisive and contentious remarks made by President Trump, and was honored to be arm in arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during our anthem.

"Our team and the National Football League reflects our nation, with diversity coming in many forms -- race, faith, our views and our goals. We have a lot of work to do, and we can do it, but the comments by the President make it harder. That's why it was important for us, and personally for me, to show the world that even if we may differ at times, we can and should be united in the effort to become better as people and a nation."

Detroit Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford also issued a statement Sunday morning, saying, "Our game has long provided a powerful platform for dialogue and positive change in many communities throughout our nation.

"Thanks primarily to our players, the NFL also has been a unifying force in our country and impactful change has and hopefully will continue to be the result of peaceful expression, done so in order to highlight social injustices of all kind. Negative and disrespectful comments suggesting otherwise are contrary to the founding principles of our country, and we do not support those comments or opinions."

Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, who also donated to Trump, issued a statement Sunday morning. "We view our organization, our league and our players as great unifiers of people," the statement read, in part. "Our players, just like so many others across our league, have been honest and thoughtful with their attempt to bring awareness to the issues of inequality and social injustice.

"We must not let misguided, uninformed and divisive comments from the President or anyone else deter us from our efforts to unify. Our stance in support of the liberties of peaceful, personal expression afforded to our players and all Americans will remain strong, and we will continue to encourage our players to respectfully use their earned platform to inspire positive change in our nation and throughout society."

Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey also said his team is supportive of bringing "peace and unity together through football."

"What makes this the greatest country in the world are the liberties it was founded upon and the freedom to express oneself in a respectful and peaceful manner," McCaskey's statement said. "Through important dialogue with our players and team, this divisive political situation has unified our franchise for the present and the future."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-chairman Joel Glazer said in a statement on Sunday, "As we have stated previously, the Buccaneers recognize every individual's constitutional right to freedom of speech, which is crucial to the American way of life that we cherish. We are equally committed to the principles of inclusivity and respect for differing points of view that should be afforded to all Americans."

New York Jets chairman, CEO and acting owner Christopher Johnson said in a statement: "It was an honor and a privilege to stand arm-in-arm unified with our players during today's National Anthem. We are very proud of our players and their strong commitment to work in our community to make a positive, constructive, and unifying impact."

Kansas City Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said he believes "in honoring the American flag" and said "hatred and division have no place in our game." He also implored Americans to work together.

"We are blessed in the National Football League to work with an outstanding group of players who, through their thoughtfulness and generosity, are deeply engaged in their communities," Hunt's statement said. "I believe in honoring the American flag and supporting all of those whose sacrifices protect the many freedoms we have in this country, including the right to have differences of opinion.

"Sports have long been a unifying force -- especially in challenging times -- and hatred and division have no place in our game. As a nation, we face serious challenges, and I believe as Americans, each of us has a responsibility to engage one another with empathy and humility to gain a better understanding of ways we can work together to solve these difficult issues."

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, then with the 49ers, began the wave of protests in the NFL when he sat during the national anthem before a preseason game in August 2016. During the regular season, Kaepernick modified his protest of social injustice and knelt during the anthem.

Trump didn't mention Kaepernick or any other NFL player specifically during his Friday speech. Earlier this year, Trump took credit for the fact that Kaepernick hadn't been signed.

Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers during the offseason. He has not been signed by a new team. Several players have continued to protest during the anthem this season.

Information from ESPN's Kevin Seifert and The Associated Press was used in this report.