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Trump Defends Remarks on NFL Players Kneeling During Anthem

epa07341586 New England Patriots running back James White (Top) gets tackled by Los Angeles Rams inside linebacker Cory Littleton (L) during the first half of Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 03 February 2019. EPA-EFE/LARRY W. SMITH

Hours before the Super Bowl, President Donald Trump said he would allow his young son to play football if he wanted to but wouldn’t encourage it because “it’s a dangerous sport,” and defended his criticism of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.

He also picked the New England Patriots to win.

Trump was asked in an interview airing on CBS before the biggest National Football League game of the year whether he’d let his son Barron, 12, play American football.

“If he wanted to? Yes,” Trump said, according to a transcript provided by the network. “Would I steer him that way? No, I wouldn’t.”

Trump said he doesn’t like reports he sees about football, which has faced questions about brain injuries from concussions and repeated blows to the head from the sport. Other contact sports, including hockey, have faced similar issues. While football helmets have gotten far better, “it hasn’t solved the problem,” Trump said.

“I hate to say it because I love to watch football,” Trump said. “The NFL is a great product, but I really think that as far as my son — well I’ve heard NFL players saying they wouldn’t let their sons play football. So. It’s not totally unique, but I — I would have a hard time with it.”

Barron “plays a lot of soccer,” Trump said, adding that “a lot of people, including me, thought soccer would probably never make it in this country, but it really is moving forward rapidly.”

Trump V. NFL

Trump has feuded publicly with the NFL over quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other players — most of them black — kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality. The president has called for players who don’t stand to be suspended.

Asked in the CBS interview about the controversy and his handling of race issues, Trump responded by pivoting to his successful effort to pass criminal justice reform and said “a lot of people in the NFL have been calling and thanking me for it.” He also suggested NFL ratings are up because players haven’t been kneeling.

“When you want to protest I think that’s great,” Trump said. “But I don’t think you do it at the sake of our flag, at the sake of our national anthem.”

A CBS News poll released on Sunday to coincide with its wide-ranging interview with the president showed that 69 percent of Americans generally dislike it when Trump criticizes athletes and sports figures, and 63 percent either somewhat or strongly disapprove of how he handles race relations in the U.S.

Trump also said he’s on good terms with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and that he did “a big favor” for the league by including a provision in the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement that resolves a dispute over the league’s Super Bowl ads.

The president predicted that the New England Patriots would defeat the Los Angeles Rams in the game, part of which he plans to watch at his Florida resort with friends before returning to Washington. He called Patriots owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick “special,” and Tom Brady “the greatest quarterback of all time.”

“So, I would say they would win,” Trump said. “As the expression goes, who knows? I hope it’s a great game.” DM

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