President Donald Trump spent his weekend commenting on the sports world, and players and teams across many leagues took notice.
At a rally in Huntsville, Ala. on Friday night, Trump criticized NFL players who have kneeled during the national anthem as a protest to police brutality and racism in America (following Colin Kaepernick's protests last season), offering advice for their employers.
"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He's fired! He's fired!'"
The NFL was quick to react. Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin said he believed "this will be a unifying moment for the sports world.", while several owners and executives said they had their players' backs.
Statement from Arthur Blank: pic.twitter.com/20DH3DHc4e- Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) September 23, 2017
Statement from Miami Dolphins Owner and Founder of Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) Stephen Ross. pic.twitter.com/6W3mXwJO6M- Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) September 23, 2017
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also weighed in.
"The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we've experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities."
Instead of quelling protests across sports, Trump may have inspired more. On Saturday night, Oakland A's rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell kneeled for the anthem before the team's contest at the Coliseum against the Rangers and was embraced by teammates afterward.
Not long after Maxwell made his gesture, the A's issued words of support.
MLB released a statement as well.
Major League Baseball has a longstanding tradition of honoring our nation prior to the start of our games. We also respect that each of our players is an individual with his own background, perspectives and opinions. We believe that our game will continue to bring our fans, their communities and our players together.
John Angelos, Orioles executive vice president and son of O's owner Peter Angelos, wrote a series of tweets which read, in part:
"In nearly 25 years as a sports executive and a lifetime spent as an American citizen I have never been so appalled by the abusive blood lust of my country's highest governmental office to defile my country's constitutional guarantees and selectively attack and demonize my country's people based on their exercise of our constitutional free speech rights."
But the intersection of sports and politics this weekend wasn't just about taking a knee on the field -- it extended to a championship conundrum. At the Golden State Warriors' media day on Friday, Steph Curry faced questions about the team's possible visit to the White House to celebrate its NBA title. Warriors players and coach Steve Kerr have been among the most vocal critics of the president in sports, so his response wasn't surprising: If the team held a vote, he'd be voting no.
"That we don't stand for basically what our president has -- the things that he's said and the things that he hasn't said in the right times, that we won't stand for it," Curry said. "And by acting and not going, hopefully that will inspire some change when it comes to what we tolerate in this country and what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye to. It's not just the act of not going there. There are things you have to do on the back end to actually push that message into motion."
Last month, Warriors star Kevin Durant said he wouldn't go to the White House because "I don't respect who's in office right now." And Kerr has called Trump "ill-suited" for the office in the past.
Multiple reports on Friday indicated that the NBA was in conversation with the White House about the Warriors' visit and the team had planned to meet on Saturday. There has been no official invite as of yet, however.
But Trump's Twitter fingers got itchy hours after the Alabama rally, and the target of his ire soon included Curry.
Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
The president's response elicited thoughts from the NBA's biggest star, LeBron James.
U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!- LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017
LeBron then elaborated on his thoughts in a video.
Kobe Bryant tweeted a response of his own on Saturday.
A #POTUS whose name alone creates division and anger. Whose words inspire dissension and hatred can't possibly "Make America Great Again"- Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) September 23, 2017
And Kerr laughed it off, with a heavy dose of shade.
Steve Kerr on Donald Trump's tweet: "Not surprising. He was going to break up with us before we broke up with him." Kerr was laughing.- Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) September 23, 2017
The Warriors wouldn't be the first team to skip a trip to the White House in sports history (the 1972 Dolphins declined a trip in the midst of President Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal, while other individual players have chosen not to make a visit for political reasons, both on the democrat and republican sides). But this back and forth has certainly taken on a life of its own.
Rockets star Chris Paul had his say.
With everything that's going on in our country, why are YOU focused on who's kneeling and visiting the White House??? #StayInYoLane- Chris Paul (@CP3) September 23, 2017
And I doubt he's man enough to call any of those players a son of a bitch to their face...- Chris Paul (@CP3) September 23, 2017
NBA commissioner Adam Silver released a statement.
Commissioner Adam Silver released the following statement regarding the Golden State Warriors not being invited to visit the White House pic.twitter.com/6RS3k54cEB- NBA (@NBA) September 23, 2017
Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, who is from the Bay Area and is also friends with LeBron, told the New York Daily News on Saturday that he wouldn't go to the White House either, should the Yanks go all the way this year:
"I just don't believe in anything that is Trump. So there wouldn't be any reason for me to go at all."
Wizards' star Bradley Beal and the Warriors' Draymond Green got their emoji games going.
How you gonna withdraw an invite that somebody already said they weren't attending? 🤔🤡- Bradley Beal (@RealDealBeal23) September 23, 2017
Still wondering how this guy is running our country.... 🤔🤔🤔- Draymond Green (@Money23Green) September 23, 2017
Lions' star Eric Ebron and the Saints' Michael Thomas got some strong words in.
Does anyone tell trump to stick to politics, like they tell us to stick to sports? Smh.- Eric Ebron (@Ebron85) September 23, 2017
Continue to use your voices and your platforms for racial equality and to stop injustices in our communities. This is bigger than us!!! ✊- Michael Thomas (@Michael31Thomas) September 23, 2017
And the outspoken Richard Sherman released a video via The Players' Tribune.
Richard Sherman wants to address how the President is dividing the country. pic.twitter.com/lWQhR0ARpZ- The Players' Tribune (@PlayersTribune) September 24, 2017
Interesting time indeed. To say the least.