The NFL has continued to take criticism for its national anthem protests, most recently from the wife of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, whose story inspired the Oscar-winning film American Sniper.
Chris Kyle's widow Taya Kyle wrote an open letter addressed to the NFL in which she accused the league of pulling football fans apart. She said NFL fans modeled the kind of unity that protesters should want, and she concluded that the league would need to work to win fans like her back.
"You are asking us to abandon what we loved about togetherness and make choices of division," Kyle wrote. "Will we stand with you? Will we stand with our flag?"
"It is the polar opposite of the easy togetherness we once loved in football," she added. "You dear NFL, have taken that. You have lost me here."
Kyle's husband served in Iraq and became nationally known from his autobiography American Sniper, which Clint Eastwood adapted into a highly successful film. She has toured the country promoting both the movie and her own book, and she has said America is less divided than polarizing political debates would indicate.
"If you take the polarizing conflicts out of the conversation, you'd realize most people are not so far apart," she told the Sioux City Journal. "We might disagree on some things, but we're not hateful with our neighbor."
In her letter to the NFL, however, she implicated the league in exacerbating these divisions. She expressed her view that football games were already serving as rallying points for fans of different backgrounds.
"We talked in the concession lines and commiserated and celebrated our team together," Kyle wrote. "Did it ever occur to you that you and we were already a mix of backgrounds, races, and religions? We were already living the dream you want, right in front of you."
"Your desire to focus on division and anger has shattered what many people loved most about the sport," she added.
She said that real change in communities is possible, but she has learned it requires "rolling up" her sleeves. She concluded that NFL players are equipped to do that if they want to work to "build bridges."
Kyle's letter came after Pat Tillman's widow took a different approach to the protest controversy. Marie Tillman's husband served in the Army and died in Afghanistan after playing in the NFL, and she said he died protecting the right to protest and asked for him not to be politicized.
"Pat's service, along with that of every man and woman's service, should never be politicized in a way that divides us," Tillman said.
President Donald Trump had shared pictures of Tillman on Twitter Monday to support his argument against the protests.