President Trump on Super Bowl: ‘Proudly stand for the national anthem’

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US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting at the Customs and Border Protection National Targeting Center in Sterling, Virginia on February 2, 2018. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump issued a Super Bowl message on Sunday that, in keeping with the White House’s opposition to NFL protests against police brutality and racial injustice, included a line about standing for the national anthem.

“Though many of our nation’s service members are unable to be home with family and friends to enjoy this evening’s American tradition, they are always in our thoughts and prayers,” Trump’s statement read. “We owe these heroes the greatest respect for defending our liberty and our American way of life. Their sacrifice is stitched into each star and every stripe of our Star-Spangled Banner. We hold them in our hearts and thank them for our freedom as we proudly stand for the national anthem.”

Super Bowl LII pits returning champions the New England Patriots against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday evening in Minneapolis. Trump, a longtime sports fan and Patriots backer, has railed against players taking a knee during the national anthem, which was started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and called on the NFL to pull players who participate in the protest.

Trump said he asked Vice President Mike Pence to walk out of a football game last year because of the protest, which the pair have said disrespects the American flag and US service members.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady broke with Trump on the issue last fall, calling Trump’s comments “just divisive.”

If there are protesting players at the Super Bowl, NBC is set to show them, and the NFL told CNN Money ahead of the game that it does not plan to keep players in their locker rooms and that there is no rule preventing players from protesting.

A White House official told CNN that Trump has opted out of a pre-Super Bowl interview with NBC, which is televising the game.

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