Athletes, coaches address anthem protests, Trump's comments

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Latest on President Donald Trump's criticism of protesting athletes (all times local):

5:30 p.m.

National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman says he respects players' views on political and social issues and "people are going to have to decide what makes them comfortable."

Several pro hockey players have commented President Donald Trump's call for protesting NFL players to be fired. Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler tweeted Saturday about the First Amendment, writing: "these are literally the principles the US was founded on. Come on, Mr. President."

In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Bettman says social issues "are a matter of individual belief and individual choice."

After Trump uninvited the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, the Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins say they've accepted an invitation to go to the White House.

-- AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno


5:15 p.m.

Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy says it's "unfortunate" that President Donald Trump "has made our national anthem a divisive issue."

But Van Gundy, a vocal critic of Trump, adds: "The positive is that people are now talking about some very important problems. There are serious issues of inequality and injustice in this country."

Van Gundy was later asked about the assertion that sports figures should stick to sports.

He says: "Athletes have the same rights everybody else does, and if there's a strength in our democracy it's that we are encouraged to exercise those rights and speak out and to hold people in power in check. So the 'stick to sports' stuff -- I don't get it."


5 p.m.

Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker wants to make it clear that the NFL players who protested during the national anthem Sunday are not disrespecting the military.

Walker says that is not what this protest has been about and noted he's been on USO tours, including one this past offseason.

Walker says the protests are about showing that NFL players care about each other and equal rights.

For the fans that don't want to come to the games, Walker says "OK, bye." He says fans have the freedom and choice not to attend.


3:59 p.m.

The Phoenix Suns' Tyson Chandler says President Donald Trump's call for protesting NFL players to be fired is "very disheartening."

Chandler says: "Those kinds of comments only divide. They don't bring anything together."

The 16-year NBA veteran spoke Monday at the Suns' preseason media day.

Chandler is also taking issue with Trump referring to a protesting player as a "son of a bitch." Chandler says: "You can't get more insulting than that. ... That wasn't a shot at NFL players, that's a shot at humanity."

Chandler sees one positive from Sunday's protests at NFL games nationwide: "guys stepping up and guys coming together from all walks of life."


3:55 p.m.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner says he "strongly disagrees" with NFL players protesting during the national anthem.

The Republican, a former businessman, is part owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. During Sunday's game in Chicago, all but one of the Steelers stayed in the locker room during the anthem in protest of President Donald Trump's criticism of NFL players.

Rauner says the protesters are "disrespecting" the country's foundations and veterans. He says he "cannot and will not condone such behavior." He adds that players have the freedom of expression and can "choose to be disrespectful."

About 200 players nationwide kneeled or sat during the anthem Sunday.

Among other things, Trump has called for protesting players to be fired. Many players, owners and commissioners have chastised Trump for his remarks.


3:25 p.m.

The leaders of the nation's two biggest veterans' groups are criticizing NFL player protests during the national anthem.

American Legion National Commander Denise Rohan chided what she called the politicization of sports events. She says the playing of the national anthem should be a time of unity, and that professional athletes who fail to show respect are "misguided and ungrateful."

Keith Harman, the national commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars, says the player protests don't "wash with millions of military veterans who have and continue to wear real uniforms on real battlefields around the globe."

Their statements come after President Donald Trump attacked NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.

The American Legion and VFW together represent nearly four million military veterans.


2:45 p.m.

NBA-All-Star LeBron James isn't taking back calling President Donald Trump "a bum."

James referred to Trump as "U bum" in a tweet on Saturday after the president pulled back an invitation to the Golden State Warriors to visit the White House. James said at a free-wheeling news conference on Monday that Trump doesn't understand how many kids are looking up to the president of the United States for guidance, leadership and words of encouragement.

James said, "That's what makes me more sick than anything."

He referred to Trump as "that guy" in remarks at the Cleveland Cavaliers' media day, and said the president "doesn't understand the power that he has for being the leader of this beautiful country."


2:15 p.m.

A spokesman for key NFL sponsor Anheuser-Busch says the beer maker supports both the national anthem and freedom of speech.

Matt Kohan, senior director of marketing communications, says the company's history of supporting the institutions and values that have made America strong includes "our armed forces and the national anthem, as well as diversity, equality and freedom of speech."

Kohan says the controversy between President Donald Trump and protesting NFL players "touches on complex issues that require in-depth discussions and nuanced debate."


1:20 p.m.

Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York says he has a message for athletes and coaches in the wake of recent criticism from the president: "We have your back."

Jeffries, speaking from the House floor, says he finds it ironic that "the same group of people" who regularly refuse to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin for that nation's interference in the 2016 presidential election now criticize professional athletes for their protest actions.

Jeffries says, "How dare you lecture us about what's patriotic."

He says the African-America community has endured many atrocities in the nation's history, including a politic brutality epidemic. He says it's in that context that athletes such as Colin Kaepernick "kneel down so that others may have the courage to stand up."

Jeffries spoke as lawmakers began returning to Washington Monday.


1:20 p.m.

Wizards guard Bradley Beal called President Donald Trump a "clown" and said he's "not a leader" for his tweets about Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors and his comments about NFL players kneeling or sitting during the national anthem.

"You have guys who won a championship and they have the freedom of deciding whether or not they want to go (to the White House)," Beal said Monday at Wizards media day. "When one man decides not to go, how in the world can you just take an invite (away)? That doesn't make any sense to me. To me, you're a clown. That's unacceptable. That's not what a leader does."

Beal and teammate John Wall said Trump should be focused on more important issues, including the current situation in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.


1:20 p.m.

Memphis coach David Fizdale says yes, he'll absolutely take a knee if his Grizzlies decide to protest. The NBA coach in the city where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot also says anyone who thinks such protests disrespect the military should simply go through President Donald Trump's tweets.

Fizdale noted Trump's tweets about Sen. John McCain, transgender troops and the military, and criticism of a Gold Star family. Fizdale says Trump is putting American troops based in South Korea and Japan in danger by risking "instigating a war" with North Korea.

The Grizzlies coach says people need to take a look at who's really disrespecting the military and who's honoring the military by exercising their rights.


12:42 p.m.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says President Donald Trump should focus more on hurricane recovery and less on football players.

The Democrat told business leaders Monday that the Republican president's criticism of NFL players who protest during the national anthem is divisive. He said Trump should pay more attention to helping residents in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands still reeling from destructive hurricanes.

Following the storms Cuomo visited Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in a show of solidarity and to better understand how New York can help. The state is sending personnel and supplies such as drinking water and electric generators.

Cuomo has been mentioned as a possible White House contender in 2020. He's seeking a third term as governor next year.


12:17 p.m.

Sporting goods behemoth Nike is weighing in on NFL player protests of the national anthem and President Donald Trump's comments over the weekend.

The company says it "supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society."


12:01 p.m.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is at odds with President Donald Trump on the issue of player protests of the national anthem, calling Trump's comments "just divisive."

Brady tells Boston's WEEI-FM that he "certainly" disagrees with Trump's comment that NFL owners should fire any player who refuses to stand for the anthem.

Patriots locked arms with some teammates during the "Star-Spangled Banner" Sunday against the Texans while other players kneeled.

Brady has called Trump a "good friend" in the past and one of Trump's "Make America Great Again" hats was spotted in Brady's locker in 2015. Trump has often praised the quarterback on social media.

Brady skipped a White House visit with Trump in April when the team celebrated its fifth Super Bowl title.


11:40 a.m.

Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a prominent civil rights leader, says that President Donald Trump's comments about protesting NFL players were "beneath the dignity of the president."

Trump used profanity in referring to NFL players who don't stand during the national anthem.

Lewis says he couldn't believe what he heard during the president's campaign rally in his native state.

Lewis says Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., often said Americans have a right to protest for what is right.

Speaking outside the Capitol, Lewis also says Americans have a long history of protesting with peaceful, orderly and non-violent actions.


11:20 a.m.

NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart is firing back at President Donald Trump for attacking players who kneel during the national anthem. He says their protests against racial inequality and police brutality are "real locker room talk."

It was an apparent reference to Trump being caught on tape talking with "Access Hollywood" host Billy Bush about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women. Trump later dismissed his remarks made in the 2005 video, which emerged a month before the November election, as "locker room talk."

Many NFL players on Sunday locked arms with their teammates -- some standing, others kneeling -- in a show of solidarity. "Everyone should know, including the president, this is what real locker room talk is," Lockhart said Monday during a conference call.

He said: "We don't seek to get into political debates or relish being in the middle of it, but extraordinary statements from our clubs and owners demonstrate just how deeply we believe in our players and in our game."


7:45 a.m.

President Donald Trump says his criticism of football players who kneel during the national anthem "has nothing to do with race."

The president says on Twitter on Monday that the issue is "about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!"

The president tweeted that many people "booed the players who kneeled yesterday (which was a small percentage of total). These are fans who demand respect for our Flag!"

He also points with pride to NASCAR supporters, writing, "They won't put up with disrespecting our Country or our Flag - they said it loud and clear!"

About football 200 players decided to stand, kneel or raise their fists during the national anthem at NFL games on Sunday in response to Trump's calls for players to be fired.


5:05 a.m.

President Donald Trump has created drama over the last three days by criticizing activist athletes.

He's drawn criticism for saying football players who kneel during the national anthem should be fired.

The conflict peaked Sunday with Trump's remarks that had the effect of uniting a newly minted coalition including a growing number of players and coaches, as well as some owners who have backed the president.

Trump told reporters in New Jersey that kneeling was "very disrespectful to our flag and to our country" and "owners should do something."

Trump pushed back against the suggestion that his critique could inflame racial tensions, arguing: "I never said anything about race."