NFL Protests Named Top Sports Story in 2017

President Donald Trump couldn’t stand NFL players kneeling in protest during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” His angry call to fire players who didn’t stand for the national anthem rekindled both the national debate over the issue and the movement itself.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick initiated the protests last year to bring attention to racial inequality and police brutality against minorities. Kaepernick is currently out of football, and relatively few players were demonstrating this season before the president stoked his feud with the NFL .

During a speech at a political rally in Huntsville, Alabama, in late September, Trump said, “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.”

Criticism from players, owners and fans — and some praise — greeted Trump’s remarks, which sparked a massive show of defiance that weekend, with more than 200 players protesting by choosing not to stand for the national anthem.

The president’s feud with the NFL is the runaway winner for the top sports story of 2017 in balloting by AP members and editors, easily outdistancing the corruption scandal engulfing college basketball and the Houston Astros winning their first World Series and lifting the spirits of a city devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

The year was marked by sex scandals, Russian doping and the U.S. failing to qualify for soccer’s World Cup . Tom Brady engineered a record-breaking comeback as the New England Patriots rallied from a 28-3 deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons in the first Super Bowl to go into overtime and Clemson mounted a last-second comeback to beat Alabama for the national championship.

Kevin Durant led the Golden State Warriors to the NBA title and MMA star Conor McGregor stepped into the boxing ring to face undefeated champ Floyd Mayweather Jr.

All of that was overshadowed by the NFL protesters and the president’s dive into the debate.

Some allied groups were quick to call for an NFL boycott following Trump’s remarks about the protesters.

The president’s attack on athletes turned the anthems — usually sung during commercials — into must-watch television shown live by the networks and streamed on devices.

In addition to the protests, some players and coaches locked arms in a show of unity, which Trump said was a display of “solidarity” of which he approved. But he pushed back against the suggestion that his critique could inflame racial tensions, arguing: “This has nothing to do with race. This has to do with respect for our country.”

But critics of the president said Trump’s comments had a lot to do with race.

“It just amazes me with everything else going on in this world, especially involving the U.S., that’s what you’re concerned about, my man? You’re the leader of the free world and this is what you’re talking about?” Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas said. “So, as a man, as a father, as an African-American man, as somebody in the NFL and one of those ‘sons of bitches,’ yeah, I took it personally.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Trump’s comments were “divisive” and showed an “unfortunate lack of respect.”

A handful of white players didn’t stand, but the vast majority of those actively protesting were black.

“We felt like President Trump’s speech was an assault on our most cherished right, freedom of speech,” said Denver Broncos star Von Miller, who normally steers clear of politics and social issues.

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