President Trump has responded to players from multiple NFL teams kneeling or locking arms on Sunday, tweeting that taking a knee is not acceptable, and suggested the act of protest will lead to bad ratings for the league’s games.
Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Meanwhile, while one Pittsburgh team did not come out of the locker room for the anthem on Sunday, another has accepted the president's invitation to join him at the White House. Trump tweeted that the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins will be joining him at the White House, but did not provide a date. "Great team!" he added.
The Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday chose not to participate in the national anthem ceremony at all at Soldier Field in Chicago for their noon game against the Chicago Bears.
Elsewhere, owners from the Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars have now joined players on the field in solidarity.
One owner, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, criticized Trump, who he has previously called a very good friend, saying he is "deeply disappointed" in the president’s comments condemning NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem.
"There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics," Kraft said in a statement tweeted by the Patriots.
The team's CEO added that he supports players' rights "to peacefully [effect] social change."
"I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal," the statement said. "Our players are intelligent, thoughtful, and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is impactful."
The public disagreement comes only months after the Patriots made a formal visit to the White House in April during which Kraft called Trump a "very good friend."
Kraft's comments came shortly after Trump early on Sunday morning turned his attention to NFL fans in his feud with the league over players who kneel in protest during the national anthem, saying many people "stay away" from the games "because they love our country."
The president also suggested that if fans refuse to go to games due to the protests, "you will see change fast."
...NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Trump's tweets Sunday came just a couple of hours before a series of NFL games scheduled for the day begin.
Earlier, on Saturday night, the president slammed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for speaking out against Trump's condemnation of kneeling players and statement that team owners should fire those players.
Goodell is "trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country," Trump tweeted.
Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.Tell them to stand!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
Goodell did not mention the president by name in his statement earlier today.
"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."
NFL players across the league and their union -- and even some team officials -- were more direct in their response to Trump's criticism Friday night of the handful of NFL players who have kneeled or sat on the bench during the national anthem performed before games over the past two seasons. The practice was most famously done by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick, who is currently unsigned, began kneeling in the preseason in 2016 as a sign of protest over the treatment of blacks in the U.S.
Trump, speaking at a rally in Alabama on Friday, said, "Wouldn’t you love to see one of the NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say 'Get that son of a b---- off the field right now?'"
"You know, some owner ... is going to say, 'That guy who disrespects our flag, he’s fired,'" the president said to thunderous applause and cheers.
The president of the NFL Players Union, which represents current and former players, released a statement on Saturday: "The balance between the rights of every citizen in our great country gets crossed when someone is told to just 'shut up and play.'"
Union President DeMaurice Smith acknowledged in his statement that “the peaceful demonstrations by some of our players" haven't been universally supported, but "have generated a wide array of responses."
But, he added, "Those opinions are protected speech and a freedom that has been paid for by the sacrifice of men and women throughout history ... No man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights."
Hours later Trump fired back at his critics, tweeting that it was a "privilege" for athletes to earn a lucrative career in professional sports.
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....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
...our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York weighed in Saturday afternoon, called the president's comments "callous and offensive" and "contradictory to this great country stands for."
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross did not refer to the president directly, but said in a statement the country "needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness."
Statement from Miami Dolphins Owner and Founder of Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) Stephen Ross. pic.twitter.com/6W3mXwJO6M— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) September 23, 2017
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll released a lengthy statement on Saturday evening supporting players' right to protest.
"In this incredibly polarizing time, there's no longer a place to sit silently. It's time to take a stand," Carroll said. "We stand for love and justice and civility. We stand for our players and their constitutional rights, just as we stand for equality for all people."
Reaction to Trump's comments on social media by players were largely negative:
Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall
Lions tight end Eric Ebron
Does anyone tell trump to stick to politics, like they tell us to stick to sports? Smh.— Eric Ebron (@Ebron85) September 23, 2017
Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis
Trump!! ??????????????— Thomas Davis (@ThomasDavisSDTM) September 23, 2017
Redskins linebacker Zach Brown
Trump stay in ur place... football have nothing to do wit u smh— Zach Brown (@ZachBrown_55) September 23, 2017
Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews (a college teammate of Kaepernick)
I'm a full supporter of the Flag & This country! Trust Me! But this can't be real! https://t.co/GAPkZPB8hz— Rishard Matthews (@_RMatthews) September 23, 2017
Buccaneers safety T.J. Ward
Vikings running back Bishop Sankey
It's a shame and disgrace when you have the President of the US calling citizens of the country sons of a bitches.— Bishop Sankey (@BishopSankey) September 23, 2017
Former Saints/Lions running back Reggie Bush
NFL players don't work for you Donald! Request denied ??? https://t.co/rdu0ocS7Y9— Reggie Bush (@ReggieBush) September 23, 2017
Former Texans running back Arian Foster
cloth has more value than people. apparently. https://t.co/PZjeRA9861— feeno (@ArianFoster) September 23, 2017
Kaepernick did not directly address Trump's comments following the speech by Trump, but he did retweet multiple messages of support from fans and even a tweet of support from his mother on Saturday.
Bennett was detained by police outside a Las Vegas casino on Aug. 27 after police responded to a report of gunfire in the area. Video obtained by TMZ of the incident shows an officer yelling at Bennett and pointing his gun at him while he is handcuffed. He was later let go by police.
Bennett has begun sitting on the bench during the national anthem in protest of police violence.
President Trump is no stranger to the NFL. In February, he was seen dining with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, and in January just before his inauguration, the president singled out Kraft at a dinner.
ABC News' Maia Davis, Brendan Rand and M.L. Nestel contributed to this report.