'I think they're afraid of their players, you want to know the truth. And I think it's disgraceful'
President Donald Trump said he believes that owners of National Football League teams are afraid of their players, his latest criticism of NFL players kneeling during the US national anthem at games to protest racial disparities in the country.
The Republican president told "Fox & Friends" in an interview broadcast on Thursday that he is friends with many NFL team owners and they were "in a box" over how to handle the kneeling protests.
"They say, 'we are in a situation where we have to do something.' I think they're afraid of their players, you want to know the truth. And I think it's disgraceful," he said.
Trump did not identify any of the friends. An NFL representative did not respond to a request for comment. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the president was concerned his comments might inflame racial tensions.
Most team owners are white, while the majority of the NFL players are African-American.
The president first denounced the symbolic gesture on Friday, telling a political rally that any protesting player was a "son of a b****" who should be fired, and urged a boycott of NFL games.
While Trump's verbal assault has likely appealed to his conservative base, it has drawn a storm of criticism, including from the NFL's commissioner.
Trump has beaten back questions about whether his focus on the NFL protests took his attention away from a host of crises, including hurricane-damaged Puerto Rico and tensions with North Korea. "There's been no distraction," he told Fox.
Hillary Clinton, Trump's Democratic rival in the 2016 election, called Trump's comments "a huge, loud dog whistle to his supporters" in an interview with CBS.