NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement Saturday morning after United States President Donald Trump criticized NFL players kneeling during the American national anthem and the league's effort to remove fierce hits from the sport Friday night.
"The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture," Goodell said. "There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we've experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities."
Trump responded to Goodell's statement later on Saturday:
Trump said he wanted an NFL owner to immediately release a player who didn't stand for the national anthem: "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he's fired. He's fired!"
The President also said the league trying to legislate away hard hits was "ruining the game."
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started to kneel during the anthem during last year's preseason. He was later joined by various athletes as a show of unity.
Kaepernick explained his actions to Steve Wyche of NFL.com in August 2016.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he said. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
Kaepernick, who opted out of his contract with the Niners in March, has been unable to find a new team and remains a free agent with the 2017 season now in Week 3.
Meanwhile, the NFL has attempted to reduce the number of big hits, especially those aimed toward the head and neck area, due to concerns about the long-term impact of concussions and brain trauma.
The latest results released by the JAMA Network in July showed 99 percent of former NFL players (110 of 111) who had their brain studied after death were "neuropathologically diagnosed" with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease.
Rather than reply directly to Trump's comments, Goodell focused on the positive impact players have made by generating donations after recent hurricanes and the Mexican earthquake. Houston Texans star J.J. Watt drew national attention for raising over $37 million following Hurricane Harvey.