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In wake of Trump comments, Seahawks ‘fully support our players’ use of freedom of speech’

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 17: Defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks, center, sitting, is joined by teammates defensive end Frank Clark #55, left, running back Thomas Rawls #34, second from left, center Justin Britt #68 and defensive end Cliff Avril #56 on the bench during the national anthem before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field on September 17, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

SEATTLE – The Seattle Seahaws issued a statement Saturday night defending their players’ right to protest, one day after President Donald Trump said NFL owners should “fire” players who kneel during the national anthem to advocate for civil rights.

“We fully support our players’ use of their freedom of speech and peaceful action to highlight the existing racial and other divides in our country,” reads the statement signed by Seahawks president Peter McLoughlin. “Our players completely respect the military and veterans of our country; however, they believe these issues need to come to the forefront.”

Dozens of professional athletes spoke out Saturday, denouncing Trump’s comments at a rally in Alabama on Friday, when he said NFL players who refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” are exhibiting a “total disrespect of our heritage.” Trump doubled down on his comments Saturday, announcing that Stephen Curry, the immensely popular two-time MVP for the Golden State Warriors, would not be welcome at the White House for the commemorative visit traditionally made by championship teams after Curry indicated he didn’t want to come.

Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett has sat on the bench during the national anthem for every game beginning in the preseason. Justin Britt and Thomas Rawl have stood by in support at times, while Cliff Avril has twice sat with Bennett at the end of the anthem.

Several more NFL players, starting last season with then-San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have either knelt, sat or raised fists during the anthem to protest police treatment of blacks and social injustice. Last week at NFL games, four players sat or knelt during the anthem, and two raised fists while others stood by the protesters in support.

“That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for,” Trump said, encouraging owners to act. He added, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired.”

On Saturday, Trump echoed his stance.

“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem,” Trump tweeted. “If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

The National Football League and its players’ union angrily denounced Trump’s statements.

“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players,” the league commissioner, Roger Goodell, said in a statement.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, tweeted: “We will never back down. We no longer can afford to stick to sports.”

Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland Athletics on Saturday night become the first major league baseball player kneel during the anthem.

Maxwell dropped to a knee just outside Oakland’s dugout on Saturday before a game against the Texas Rangers. Maxwell’s teammates stood in a line next to him. Teammate Mark Canha, who is white, put his right hand on one of Maxwell’s shoulders.

Seahawks owner Paul Allen retweeted the Seahawks’ tweet supporting the players.