Raiders play in NFL’s first prime-time game since President Trump rally

WASHINGTON — The Raiders settled Friday evening into their team hotel, located in the nation’s capital.

By Saturday morning, word had spread.

Left guard Kelechi Osemele circulated to his 50,000-plus Twitter followers a quote from Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman: “The behavior of the President is unacceptable.”

Words from poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou appeared on center Jon Felciano’s Twitter feed. To his own followers, running back DeAndre Washington retweeted an interview in which rapper Jay-Z discussed politics.

The Raiders traveled cross-country to win a football game Sunday evening at FedEx Field.

The game’s backdrop is unmistakable.

President Donald Trump held a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, on Friday during which he criticized NFL players who protest the national anthem. Specifically, he referred to an anthem protester as a “son of a bitch” whom league owners should “fire.” He also encouraged fans to leave stadiums when players protest the anthem and said efforts to make the sport safer for players are “ruining the game.”


 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL Players Association representatives released separate statements Saturday in which they rejected Trump’s comments. The Raiders, who play the Redskins at 5:30 p.m., declined official comment. They will play in the first NFL prime-time game since the Trump rally.

Several Raiders players have performed demonstrations during the pregame anthem. That includes running back Marshawn Lynch, who has sat on the sideline bench throughout the preseason and regular season.

“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. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’ ” Trump said at the rally, prompting “USA!” chants. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’

“That owner — they’re friends of mine, many of them — they don’t know it: They’ll be the most popular person for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in this country because that’s a total disrespect for our heritage; that’s a total disrespect of everything we stand for. And I know we have freedoms, freedom of choice and many different freedoms, but it’s still totally disrespectful.”

Trump added that NFL ratings are down “massively,” citing the No. 1 reason as people’s interest in him.

Player safety and reducing concussions is an NFL point of emphasis. Trump, to depict the collision of helmets, bumped his fists together when describing a “beautiful tackle” he saw last week. The football hit, he said, drew a 15-yard penalty.

“The referee gets on television. His wife is sitting at home; she’s so proud of him,” Trump said. “They’re ruining the game. Right? They’re ruining the game.”

It has become customary for a U.S. president to host a major professional sports team at the White House after a championship. On Twitter, Osemele shared an image of him with President Barack Obama after the Baltimore Ravens’ title in 2013.

“Back in the day when it used to mean something,” Osemele said.

Goodell and the players union had a more formal response to Trump’s comments.

“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture,” Goodell said in a statement. “There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month. 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.”

Eric Winston, president of the NFLPA, said in a statement he is “extremely disappointed” by Trump’s comments, calling them a “slap to the face” of civil rights heroes, soldiers who have fought to uphold the country’s values and all Americans who seek civil progress.

“The divisiveness we are experiencing in this country has created gridlock in our political system, given voice to extreme, fringe beliefs and paralyzed our progress as a nation,” Winston said. “Divisiveness breeds divisiveness, but NFL players have proven to unify people in our country’s toughest moments, and we will continue to do so now. We will not stop challenging others on how we can all come together to continue to make America the greatest country on earth.”

A Raiders spokesman said that no players would be made available Saturday to comment.

It is unclear what sideline response will be made during Sunday’s national anthem.

More Raiders: Follow all of our Raiders coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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