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

PHOTO: The colors were presented to an empty bench as both teams stayed in the locker rooms during the singing of the national anthem and then some of the Tennessee Titans went to the end zone before their game, Sept. 24, 2017, in Nashville.PlayRick Musacchio/EPA
WATCH Athletes defend NFL protests amidst Trump's condemnations

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

Interested in National Anthem Protests?

Add National Anthem Protests as an interest to stay up to date on the latest National Anthem Protests news, video, and analysis from ABC News.

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.

PHOTO: Oakland Raiders sit on the bench and stare straight ahead as the national anthem is sung prior to the game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, Sept. 24, 2017,in Landover, Md. Ron Sachs/CNP/Polaris
Oakland Raiders sit on the bench and stare straight ahead as the national anthem is sung prior to the game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, Sept. 24, 2017,in Landover, Md.

"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.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally for Senator Luther Strange at the Von Braun Centre in Huntsville, Ala., Sept. 22, 2017. Marvin Gentry/Reuters
President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally for Senator Luther Strange at the Von Braun Centre in Huntsville, Ala., Sept. 22, 2017.

"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.