World

Protests grip NFL as Trump urges boycott

Other leagues are starting to adopt similar response, and sports stars speak out

LOS ANGELES A wave of protests swept across the National Football League (NFL) on Sunday as President Donald Trump escalated his feud with players who kneel during the US national anthem to draw attention to racial injustice.

Trump ignited a firestorm of criticism after comments on Friday in which he described NFL players who chose to take a knee through renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as "sons of b******" who should be fired.

The US leader doubled down on those remarks in an early morning tweet, urging fans to boycott the NFL as long as the protests continued.

"If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!" Trump wrote.

Yet players throughout America's most popular sport took a defiant stance just hours later, kneeling, linking arms or raising clenched fists during the anthem.

More than 150 players could be seen kneeling or sitting in the 14 games that took place on Sunday, easily the largest such demonstration since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first began protesting in 2016.

One of the biggest protests took place in the nation's capital, where almost the entire line-up of the Oakland Raiders team sat on their bench ahead of their game with the Washington Redskins.

A day of demonstrations began at the London game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens at Wembley Stadium, where a large number of players from both teams knelt.

The players' protests were the latest twist in a bitter war of words between Trump and US professional sports.

The trenchant response from NFL and NBA players to Trump's comments had shown signs of spreading to other leagues, with a baseball player kneeling during the anthem on Saturday.

In Game One of the WNBA Finals on Sunday, members of the Los Angeles Sparks remained in their dressing room during the anthem. Their opponents, the Minnesota Lynx, stood to attention with arms locked.

Track-and-field star Allyson Felix, a six-time Olympic gold medallist, also spoke out in support of the protests.

"Enough is enough. We have the power to create change," she said.

Kaepernick's protest was aimed at drawing more attention to treatment of minorities in America following a spate of deadly police shootings of black men. - AFP

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