President Donald Trump on Tuesday denied being "preoccupied" with the national anthem protests in the NFL during the crisis in Puerto Rico, saying he was "ashamed" of what was taking place in the league.
Trump set off a firestorm in the sports world Friday when he condemned the "son of a bitch" NFL players who don't stand for the national anthem, saying they should be fired. He repeatedly tweeted about the issue over the weekend and insisted the league should make it an obligation to stand and respect the flag.
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"I wasn't preoccupied with the NFL. I was ashamed of what was taking place," Trump said. "To me, that was a very important moment. I don't think you can disrespect our country, our flag, our national anthem. To me, the NFL situation is a very important situation. I've heard that before about, was I preoccupied? Not at all. Not at all. I have plenty of time on my hands. All I do is work."
Trump said many people had died or been terribly injured in military service to the country and the flag.
"For people to disrespect that by kneeling during the playing of our national anthem, I think is disgraceful," he said.
NFL players, coaches and executives criticized Trump and reacted with acts of solidarity during their games on Sunday and Monday. Some teams knelt or locked arms during the national anthem; a few remained in the locker room for the length of its playing.
The protest began last year with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49er who said he wanted to draw attention to police brutality and racial injustices with his act. Since that time, some other players have followed suit, while others say they find the act improper.
Trump went on to say Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló was thankful for the federal government's response to the devastation from Hurricane Maria last week. The Trump administration has been criticized for a perceived lack of attention to the disaster, although it has already sent FEMA personnel and thousands of federal staffers to assist in recovery efforts.
He will be visiting the island next week, and he said from the Oval Office Tuesday the U.S. is sending "a massive shipment of food and water and supplies to Puerto Rico" and will continue to do so on an "hourly basis."