US President Donald Trump has said his comments about national anthem protests have “nothing to do with race”.
A number of sports players and teams demonstrated during the US national anthem over the weekend.
Demonstrations against racial injustice and police violence began last year but intensified after Mr Trump said players who failed to stand should be fired or suspended.
Some fans booed their own teams and even burned their shirts in response.
“The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race,” Mr Trump tweeted on Monday morning, reiterating his statement to reporters a day earlier.
“It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!”
Recording artists Stevie Wonder, John Legend and Pharrell Williams have shown solidarity by joining in the demonstrations at weekend concerts.
Warning: This article contains language some readers may find offensive.
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Why did the protests start?
National Football League (NFL) player Colin Kaepernick first sat down during the anthem in preseason in 2016.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” he said.
“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
Kaepernick continued to demonstrate amid fierce criticism but this season remains a free agent.
Some commentators suggest he may have been “blackballed” from the sport as clubs fear a backlash for signing him.
What did Trump say?
The US president waded into the argument on Friday when he asked a crowd of supporters: “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… he is fired’?”
He has also tweeted multiple times on the issue, suggesting the NFL should change its laws to stop players demonstrating.
But sports players responded with widespread protest action during the weekend’s sports games.
Are players allowed to do it?
A US law called the Flag Code covers the etiquette around the National Anthem.
It says persons present around the national anthem are expected to stand with their hand on their heart and face a flag if there is one present.
However, the code is never enforced and there is no official punishment for breaching it.
In any case, players’ flouting of tradition has angered many sports fans.
Who joined in protests?
The protests are now widening outside the NFL. Some national anthem singers and high-profile artists have joined in by falling to their knees.
On Saturday night, the Oakland Athletics’ Bruce Maxwell became the first Major League Baseball player to kneel in protest during the anthem.
During Sunday’s NFL games:
- Neither the Seattle Seahawks nor the Tennessee Titans turned out for the national anthem before kick-off at their game, hours after the Pittsburgh Steelers did the same in Chicago (except Alejandro Villanueva, a veteran who served in Afghanistan)
- The Chicago Bears stood on the sidelines with their arms locked, as did New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady and teammates at another game. Some Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals players also linked arms
- The anthem singer at the Seahawks-Titans game kneeled at the end of the performance, as did singer at the Lions-Falcons game, who also raised his fist
- Philadelphia Eagles fans clashed with protesters ahead of a game in their home city against the New York Giants
- Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan – who donated $1m (£740,000) to the Trump campaign – locked arms with his players in an unusual scene, as owners rarely join players on the pitch
What about sporting officials?
The NFL itself has criticised Mr Trump’s remarks, with commissioner Roger Goodell saying “divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect”.
Eric Winston, president of the NFL Players’ Association, said Mr Trump’s comments were “a slap in the face to the civil rights heroes of the past and present”.
Mr Trump is also facing criticism after withdrawing a White House invitation to basketball champions the Golden State Warriors after one player, Stephen Curry, said he did not want to attend.
Curry – NBA’s top performer in 2015 – said he wanted to show that he and other players did not stand for “the things that he’s said and the things that he hasn’t said in the right times”.
However, the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team confirmed they would attend the White House, despite the controversy.
A number of Nascar bosses have come out and said they will not tolerate any kind of demonstrations in their sport.