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President Trump inflames with NFL comments, un-invites Warriors

| Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, 8:05 p.m.

SOMERSET, N.J. — President Donald Trump denounced protests by NFL players and rescinded a White House invitation for NBA champion Stephen Curry in a two-day rant that targeted top professional athletes and brought swift condemnation from league executives and star players alike Saturday.

Wading into thorny issues of race and politics, Trump's comments in a Friday night speech and a series of Saturday tweets drew sharp responses from some of the nation's top athletes, with LeBron James calling the president a "bum."

Trump started by announcing that 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. Later, Trump reiterated what he said at a rally in Alabama the previous night — that NFL players who kneel for the national anthem should be fired.

The Warriors said it was made clear to them that they were not welcome at the White House.

Curry had said he did not want to go anyway, but the Warriors had not made a collective decision before Saturday — and had planned to discuss it in the morning before the president's tweet, to which coach Steve Kerr said: "Not surprised. He was going to break up with us before we could break up with him."

Others had far stronger reactions.

Curry appreciated James' strong stance.

"That's a pretty strong statement," Curry said. "I think it's bold, it's courageous for any guy to speak up, let alone a guy that has as much to lose as LeBron does and other notable figures in the league. We all have to kind of stand as one the best we can. ... I didn't want to be applauded for an accomplishment on the court when the guy that would be doing the patting on the back is somebody I don't think respects the majority of Americans in this country."

James also released a video Saturday, saying Trump has tried to divide the country. "He's now using sports as the platform to try to divide us," James said. "We all know how much sports brings us together. ... It's not something I can be quiet about."

Trump's latest entry into the intersection of sports and politics started in Alabama on Friday night, when he said NFL players who refused to stand for "The Star-Spangled Banner" are exhibiting a "total disrespect of our heritage."

Several 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 (gun) off the field right now. Out! He's fired.' "

Trump has enjoyed strong support from NFL owners, with at least seven of them donating $1 million each to Trump's inaugural committee. They include New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, whom Trump considers a friend.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell strongly backed the players and criticized Trump for "an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL" while several team owners issued similar statements. New York Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch said the comments were inappropriate and offensive. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who has supported the players who have knelt, said the country "needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness," and San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York ripped Trump's comments as "callous."

Plenty of other current and former stars from across sports weighed in Saturday. Richard Sherman of Seattle Seahawks said the president's behavior is "unacceptable and needs to be addressed."

In his Friday remarks, Trump also bemoaned what he called a decline in violence in football, noting that it's "not the same game" because players are now either penalized or thrown out of games for aggressive tackles.

"No man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights," DeMaurice Smith, the NFL Players Association executive director, said Saturday. "No worker nor any athlete, professional or not, should be forced to become less than human when it comes to protecting their basic health and safety."

North Carolina, the reigning NCAA men's basketball champion, said Saturday it will not visit the White House this season. The Tar Heels cited scheduling conflicts.

Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, said Trump has "taken indecency to a new low."

"I think that the president has forgotten that he is the standard bearer for our country, that little boys and little girls look up to the president," he said. "Little boys and little girls want to be like the president. They want to talk like the president. I think that the president has insulted the American people with this low level of verbiage."

Warriors forward Draymond Green said the good news was that Golden State won't have to talk about going to the White House again — unless they win another title during the Trump presidency.

"Michelle Obama said it best," Green said. "She said it best. They go low. We go high. He beat us to the punch. Happy the game is over."

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