Gridiron fans across the city didn’t heed President Donald Trump’s call for a ban on watching football as they huddled into bars or hopped trains to The Meadowlands to catch the Jets game.
Trump continued his tirade against NFL players who protest during the national anthem with an early Sunday morning tweet saying fans should refuse to go to games until players “stop disrespecting our Flag & Country,” adding, “Fire or suspend!”
That comes on the heels of his explosive comments to a crowd in Alabama on Friday suggesting team owners should say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,” to any player who kneels as a sign of protest.
Hell’s Kitchen resident Tommy Walsh, 22, said he doesn’t agree with the protest but he also doesn’t agree with Trump’s involvement.
“I think he’s right, but he should mind his business,” said Walsh from an area sports bar, adding he feels kneeling for the national anthem is “anti-American.”
“They definitely have a choice, everybody has a choice,” Walsh said about the players. “If your boss tells you you should act a certain way at work, you shouldn’t complain. There’s a time and a place to do it.”
Aaron Clark, a 45-year-old teacher from Queens, thought it was “awesome to be in a country where they have the right to protest.”
“The Constitution grants the right to peacefully protest and they’re exercising that right,” he said while watching football at a local bar.
“I think it’s suppressing free speech,” said Chris Hecker, 27, of Merrick, as he waited with friends at Penn Station for a train to the Jets game. “I’m sure a lot of other people are not going to boycott the NFL.”
Even some of Trump’s friends and supporters in the football world rejected his comments on Sunday with a strong show of unity.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady locked arms with his teammates during the national anthem, while several others went down on one knee. Robert Kraft, the owner of the team and a friend of Trump, said he was disappointed by the tone of his comments.
“Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community, and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful,” Kraft said in a statement released on Twitter.
New York Jets CEO Christopher Johnson also stood arm in arm with his players on the field before Sunday’s game.
“It was an honor and a privilege to stand arm-in-arm unified with our players during today’s national anthem,” he said in a statement. “We are very proud of our players and their strong commitment to work in our community to make a positive, constructive and unifying impact.”
Football fan Mohsin Syed, 39, said at first he was put off by Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem last season as a form of protest against police violence and the oppression of African-Americans.
“I do now kind of understand,” said Syed, who works in technology investment and splits his time between the United States and India. “The president of the country, the leader of the country coming and swearing — that’s not an America I want to come to.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo referenced the debate while announcing a relief effort for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
“And look, to our colleagues in our federal government, I humbly suggest that at this time, instead of arguing with football players, instead of obsessing with how to take health care from the poor in this country, why don’t we put the politics aside and focus on helping Americans in desperate need,” Cuomo said.
Later in the day, Trump sent out another tweet many people found puzzling in the wake of protests at many football games.
“Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country,” he tweeted. “Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable.”
Body language expert Patti Wood said locking arms, historically, is viewed as a wall against oppression.
“It shows solidarity,” said Wood, author of “Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma.”
“They are locking arms against oppression,” she said. “This shows [Trump] doesn’t get what that means. He would represent the status they are trying to change.”
Wood also said when players drop to one knee in protest, it is a deliberate show of nonviolence, and hearkens back to the posture of knights.
“They are not raising a fist,” she said. “They see what is happening and they want to show they are different. It’s very strong.”