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Trump says issue of NFL players kneeling 'has nothing to do with race'

President Donald Trump asserted today that his criticism of players who kneel during the national anthem "has nothing to do with race."

Rather, the president said the issue is "respect for our country, flag and national anthem."

Trump appeared to be responding to critics who say his slam of players who kneel in protest is about race.

The president sparked the controversy at a rally Friday night when he declared that football team owners should fire players who kneel during the anthem.

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say: 'Get that son of a b---- off the field right now, out,'" the president said.in Huntsville, Alabama, before a largely white crowd.

The comments spurred a strong reaction by NFL players and owners, with many players kneeling or locking arms during the "Star-Spangled Banner" on Sunday as a rebuke to the president.

Kneeling during the anthem was started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the 2016 preseason, who said he was protesting against the treatment of blacks in the United States. Kaepernick is black.

The president on Monday continued hammering his argument that kneeling during the national anthem is unpatriotic.

"It is about respect for our country, flag and national anthem," he tweeted. "NFL must respect this!"

He also returned to his claim that NFL fans don't support the player protests.

Trump also sought to contrast the NFL with NASCAR, whose fans he said wouldn't "put up with disrespecting our country or our flag." Several NASCAR team owners and executives said Sunday that they would not want anyone in their organization to protest, The Associated Press reported.

But one of NASCAR's biggest stars staked out a different position than Trump. Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted Monday morning that all Americans have a right to protest peacefully.

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