New York Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich said he would love for President Donald Trump to visit the team's locker room to learn what an NFL environment is really like amidst the ongoing debate over protests of racial discrimination and police brutality during the national anthem at NFL games.
Herzlich told Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News:
"I think the best way to handle remarks like that is it's not necessarily a push back against his remarks. It's to maintain the focus on the real issue. The real issue isn't players being against a president or against a country. It's about players being for unity, and they want to create an atmosphere with law enforcement, with others in their community that we share in the locker room.
"You go in the locker room and guys from every single race, every single demographic, every single religious background, and we all are just a team. And so I think we see that, what's possible. And I would love Trump to come down here and hang out in our locker room and see what locker room talk's really about, and talking about our night nurses and our babies—this is what we talk about, it's a family."
The NFL changed its anthem policy last week, giving players the option to remain in the locker room during the playing of the anthem but requiring any players on the field to stand. Those players or team personnel can be fined by their team, and the team in turn is subject to fines from the NFL.
Trump, who has long been critical of players who knelt or demonstrated during the anthem as a form of protest against discrimination and other injustices in the United States, has suggested that players who didn't stand for the anthem should be subject to harsh penalties.
"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!'" he said in September, per Bryan Armen Graham of the Guardian. "You know, some owner is going to do that. He's going to say, 'That guy that disrespects our flag, he's fired.' And that owner, they don't know it [but] they'll be the most popular person in this country."
After the NFL's ruling last week, Trump upped the ante.
"You have to stand proudly for the national anthem and the NFL owners did the right thing if that's what they've done," he said during an interview on Fox News (h/t Veronica Stracqualursi of CNN.com). "You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn't be playing. You shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country."
As for the Giants and the NFL players in general, Herzlich said the next goal is taking the awareness raised by the protests and translating that into action within communities:
"Let's get in the community with the police and ride along so maybe the first time a kid meets a policeman is in their school in a positive environment. So what we're trying to do is, OK, we have everybody talking about it, how can we now take the next step to act upon it?
"So I think that's our main focus with the PA (Players Association) and the players, now that it's being talked about again, it's an opportunity for us to get out in the community and do something about it."