"The NFL has to change or the business is going to go to hell," Trump said Wednesday, according to the New York Times' Peter Baker.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting during the anthem last year to draw attention to police brutality and racial injustice. While the movement was a major story throughout 2016, Trump brought even more attention to it after comments he made at a rally in Alabama last week.
"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!'" Trump said to his supporters.
Trump echoed the sentiments on Twitter:
In response, many NFL teams engaged in shows of solidarity during the anthem. Some teams locked arms on the sideline during the anthem, while the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks both remained in the locker room ahead of their matchup:
Whether the anthem protests prove to be a wedge issue among NFL fans that costs the league significantly will only be revealed over time.
J.D. Power released a survey in July that showed only a fraction of the over 9,200 respondents had watched less football in 2016 than they had the year before solely because of the protests. And while television ratings have been down for the NFL through the first three weeks, a variety of factors—namely cord-cutting—have caused viewership to steadily decline long before Kaepernick knelt during the anthem.