President Trump says NFL owners are 'afraid of their players'

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WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump said NFL team owners are "afraid of their players," and he's still calling for action against those who kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice.

Trump said he began criticizing the players because he has "so many friends that are owners." He adds: "I think they are afraid of their players, if you want to know the truth, and I think it's disgraceful."

The president spoke in an interview that aired Thursday on "Fox and Friends." It was taped on Wednesday. He said "most people agree" with him.

Trump's statements are "inaccurate," NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said on a conference call Thursday.

"I believe there was a statement our owners are afraid of our players and owners requested intervention by political leaders to kick this off,'' Lockhart said. "Those statements are not accurate.''

Trump has spent days attacking players who kneel during the anthem, but he said that his remarks are not a distraction.?Responding to Trump, whose attacks started Friday, hundreds more players have been sitting, kneeling, locking arms or remaining in locker rooms.

"The owners are clearly united in a sense that the attacks on the game, on the NFL, on the players were unfair and unfounded, and that there was unity among the group,'' Lockhart said, noting that about two-thirds of the 32 team owners were at league headquarters this week for committee meetings.

"I think there was also a sentiment ... that the issues are being obscured and distorted by people with political agendas. I think [the owners] made it clear they support our players, but also support our country, the national anthem, the flag -- all of the things some have suggested we don't.''

"They have rules for everything," Trump said. "You can't dance in the end zone. You can't wear pink socks relative to breast cancer. They have rules for everything. Why aren't they honoring this country by enforcing a rule that's been in existence for a long time?"

The NFL relaxed its rules this season to allow greater freedom for players to celebrate touchdowns, as long as the actions aren't viewed as taunting an opponent.?

The NFL does not have a rule that requires players to stand during the anthem.?Teams must be on the field 10 minutes before kickoff, though the NFL said there would be no discipline for teams that weren't on the field last weekend.

"The stadiums are losing; there are a lot of empty seats. I couldn't even believe it," Trump said.

Lockhart said "there is no league-wide directive" on how to handle the controversy. He also said teams are studying what the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals did Monday night as a potential model for responses during this weekend's games.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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