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Sports

Trump NFL fued embroils sports and politics

media Sep 25, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Dallas Cowboys players kneel together with their arms locked prior to the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

US President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to defend his condemnation of pro football players who kneel during the national anthem, saying they 'disrespect' America.

Donald Trump weighed into America's turbulent racial debate at the weekend by calling pro football players who kneel during the national anthem against perceived racial injustice, "sons of bitches", and urging them to be fired.

But his condemnation has only triggered more protests.

On Monday, the Dallas Cowboys became the latest National Football League (NFL) team to come under fire after players and the team owner dropped to one knee during the Star Spangled Banner.

Several teams protested in a similar manner at the weekend.

The US President responded by tweeting: "The booing at the NFL game was the loudest ever. Great anger."

Yet that anger is also being directed at him.

NBA star LeBron James accused the US leader of dividing the nation and praised the way NFL players had rallied together against him.

"There was no divide, even from that guy that continues to divide us as people," he told reporters on Monday. "I'm not going to let that man ever use sport to divide us."

LeBron who's branded Trump a "bum", says the president misunderstood the nature of the anthem protests, which were sparked by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The irony is that most presidents have tended to use sport to unite the country, not the opposite.

Trump hypocrisy

"Trump taps into very important racial and cultural issues that link sports and politics in America," suggests Scott Lucas, a politics professor at Birmingham University.

"It just so happens that many American athletes are African American, many of them have come from social backgrounds where they've seen discrimination and some of them have chosen to raise these issues."

Even stars who normally shy from controversy took a stand.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers posted a photograph of himself kneeling with three of his teammates during warm-ups before the game, and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a supporter of the president, “liked” Rodgers’s photo.

"I think what Trump has done is combine racial and social issues with an apparent hypocrisy where he did not call out against White Supremacists over the Charlottesville violence last month," continues Lucas, "And he has also linked this to a very key freedom of speech issue, and that is: if you dissent in America, even if that involves the flag and the anthem, should you lose your job?"

Trump would like the National Football League to lose its sponsorship, and has called on advertisers like Pepsi and Budweiser to boycott the NFL.

Money over politics

"Money wins," reckons Lucas. "Donald Trump may call for a boycott of the NFL but when you have hundreds of millions of dollars at stake not just nationally but now internationally, advertisers choose their pocket books," over politics he suggests.

Some fans though would prefer that sports and politics were kept separate.

This week's Golf's President's Cup has already been overshadowed by the row and the US Olympic Committee is also divided on whether to back the president or support the players' right to free speech.

The White House has said NFL players should do "free speech in their own time."

Yet mixing sports and politics is not new. Olympic medalists Johnny Smith and John Carlos each raised a black gloved fist during the national anthem at the 1986 summer games. They were later suspended.

Racial fault lines

Trump has insisted his comments and tweets are not racist but instead take aim with the lack of patriotism of some NFL players.

For Lucas the row underscores the ongoing division within American society: "What Le Bron is saying is that far from helping us deal with those problems that divide us, you [Trump] are just inciting further division," he says.

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