Sunday saw an unprecedented number of NFL players and staff engaging in a protest against the US national anthem after President Donald Trump called for protesting players to be fired.
In the opening game of the day, more than 20 players from the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars knelt and linked arms during the pre-game national anthem as an act of protest.
The owner of the Jaguars, Shad Khan, also took part in the demonstration. Khan had previously donated $1 million to the Trump inauguration fund.
The protests escalated when a slate of nine games kicked off Sunday afternoon. Athletes and coaches from nearly every team playing either took a knee to protest the anthem or locked arms in solidarity with players who were demonstrating.
#TakeTheKnee has been trending on social media as people share images of the protests.
At the Atlanta Falcons v Detroit Lions game anthem singer Rico LaVelle also took part in the demonstration.
The Pittsburgh Steelers elected not to take part, instead staying in the locker room. However, one of their players, army veteran Alejandro Villanueva, stood in the tunnel with his hand over his heart.
Trump took to Twitter to claim that the linked arms demonstration showed “great solidarity” for the national anthem. He then added, however: “Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!”
The fresh wave of protests came after the president repeatedly criticised the anthem protests in recent days.
“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast,” Trump tweeted earlier on Sunday. “Fire or suspend!”
He then followed that up with a tweet saying the league is losing popularity because people are turned off by the ongoing anthem protests which were started last year by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Speaking at a rally for Republican Senator Luther Strange in Alabama on Friday night, Trump suggested any NFL player protesting the Star Spangled Banner should be fired.
“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!’” he said.
“You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
READ MORE: ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field’: Trump takes aim at NFL anthem protesters (VIDEOS)
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the comments showed an “unfortunate lack of respect” for the league, while the owners of several NFL teams released statements criticizing Trump.
Robert Kraft, the owner of the Super Bowl winning team the New England Patriots, was among those to attack the president, despite the fact that Trump considers him a friend.
“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the president on Friday,” Kraft said in a statement posted on the Patriot’s Twitter account.
The University of North Carolina men’s basketball team, who are NCAA national champions, announced on Saturday that they would not visit the White House, while Trump withdrew the invitation for the NBA champions, Golden State Warriors.
It hasn’t been all bad news on the sports front for President Trump. The Pittsburgh Penguins, who are champions of the National Hockey League, announced on Sunday that the team has accepted an invitation to visit the White House for the traditional ceremony.