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Rediff.com  » Sports » There is no stop to the national anthem controversy in the US...

There is no stop to the national anthem controversy in the US...

September 26, 2017 12:00 IST

Trump trying to divide us, cries NBA star LeBron James even as Cowboys, Cardinals link arms amid anthem protests 

Cleveland Cavaliers' forward LeBron James has come down hard on US President Donald Trump, calling him a divisive figure 

IMAGE: Cleveland Cavaliers' forward LeBron James has come down hard on US President Donald Trump, calling him a divisive figure. Photograph: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

Basketball star LeBron James on Tuesday accusing the Donald Trump of "using sports to try and divide us", while praising the American football players for protesting against the US president.

Trump said on Friday that NFL players who fail to stand during the national anthem should be sacked or suspended.

According to BBC, James praised the players' unity, and said: "The people run this country."

The 32-year-old added: "I'm not going to let one individual, no matter their power, ever use sport as a platform to divide us.

"Sport is so amazing, what it can do for everyone. No matter the shape, size, weight, ethnicity, religion or whatever -- people find teams, players and colours because of sport. It brings people together like none other."

James, who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers and has won three NBA championships, campaigned for Hillary Clinton, Trump's rival, during the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Earlier, on Monday, two National Football League teams largely steered clear of a controversy over national anthem protests that have ensnared US President Donald Trump and threatened to damage the game's popularity, staging a "moment of unity" instead.

The entire Dallas Cowboys team, including owner Jerry Jones, linked arms and knelt on the playing field for a moment before the game, but then stood respectfully as the "Star-Spangled Banner" was performed by singer Jordin Sparks.

"We all agreed that our players wanted to make a statement about unity and make a statement about equality," Jones said after his team beat the Arizona Cardinals 28-17.

Jones has previously expressed pride that no players on his team had taken to one knee as the anthem was played and said he was disappointed to see such protests.

Cardinals players joined arms as a giant flag was unfurled on the field but did not kneel.

"Prior to the National Anthem, the @DallasCowboys and @AZCardinals shared a moment of unity on the field," the NFL said in a Twitter post that was retweeted by the Cowboys.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stirred a polarizing national debate in 2016 after refusing to stand during pre-game renditions of the "Star Spangled Banner" to protest against police violence against African-Americans.

Kaepernick was not signed by an NFL team this season but several players have made similar gestures.

Trump kicked off his battle with the largest-grossing US professional sports league at a rally on Friday, when he said any protesting player was a "son of a bitch" who should be "fired.

"Those remarks touched off protests by dozens of NFL players, coaches and even some owners at games on Sunday, along with criticism from many corners of the sports world.

"The childishness, the gratuitous fear-mongering and race baiting has become so consistent that we almost expect it, the bar has been lowered so far," Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team, told reporters.

The head of the US Olympic Committee (USOC) spoke out in support of the protesters at NFL games.

"The athletes you see protesting are protesting because they love their country," USOC Chief Executive Scott Blackmun told reporters in Park City, Utah.

The International Olympic Committee's charter prohibits "demonstrations of political, religious or racial propaganda" at Olympic venues.

Not all players joined in Sunday's protests. Notably, Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Alejandro Villanueva, a US Army veteran, stood alone at the entrance to the stadium for the anthem on Sunday while his teammates waited in the locker room.

The Dallas Cowboys players, coaches staff and owner Jerry Jones take a knee prior to the National Anthem before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on Monday

IMAGE: The Dallas Cowboys players, coaches staff and owner Jerry Jones take a knee prior to the National Anthem before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on Monday. Photograph: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Villanueva jerseys and other apparel have outsold those of all other players in the past 24 hours, said a spokesman for online retailer Fanatics, which operates NFLShop.com.

Villanueva's teammate, Ben Roethlisberger, said on Monday he regretted having missed the anthem.

"I was unable to sleep last night," Roethlisberger said in a statement.

"I personally don't believe the Anthem is ever the time to make any type of protest."

Trump kept up his verbal battle with the players on Monday, saying on Twitter that his objection to the protests had nothing to do with race but was "about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!"

The president, who has called for a boycott of NFL games, also tweeted: "Tremendous backlash against the NFL and its players for disrespect of our Country."

The demonstrations have become a thorny issue for the league, which has sought to support players' rights to protest while trying to keep politics from overshadowing games.

CBS Corp said overall viewership of games it broadcast on Sunday was up 4 percent from last year and 1 percent from last week. NBC, owned by Comcast Corp, said viewership for its Sunday night game was down compared with the week before.

"The protest has nothing to do with respecting the flag. I agree with their message but not doing it during the anthem," US Air Force veteran Jimmy Phillips, 43, said before Monday's game in Phoenix.

Nike Inc said it supported athletes who had joined the protests.

"Nike supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society," Nike said in a statement.

The debate attracted intense attention online, with the hashtag "#TakeAKnee" racking up 2.4 million mentions and "#TakeTheKnee" used 1.2 million times by Monday, while "#BoycottNFL" had 101,500 mentions.

Prominent players continued to speak out against Trump on Monday.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has said he considers Trump a friend, said on Monday he disagreed with the president's remarks.

"I thought it was just divisive," Brady told Boston's WEEI radio.

At the same time as he berated the NFL, Trump praised car-racing league NASCAR, which saw no protests at its Sunday race in New Hampshire.

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