CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV/AP) - Carolina Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson released a statement Monday afternoon responding to the NFL's apparent dispute with President Donald Trump over players' protests during the National Anthem.
Richardson was one of two NFL team owners who had not responded to the feud by Monday. The team released his statement via Twitter around 4 p.m.
"I have lived and seen the sport's ability to bring people of all backgrounds together," Richardson said in part. "Politicizing the game is damaging and takes the focus off the greatness of the game itself and those who play it."
Earlier Monday, Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera took questions from reporters about the protests and whether he supported defensive end Julius Peppers in his decision to stay back during the National Anthem while the rest of the team stood on the field.
"I've got a tremendous amount of respect for how he did it. I think he was trying to find a way to do it the right way. I think he was trying to make sure everyone understood he had a tremendous amount of respect for what the flag stands for," said Rivera.
"I don't think this has anything to do with disrespect for the military or disrespect for first responders. I think this is about the rights and freedoms people have and people deserve," added Rivera.
The comments came hours after an early-morning tweet from the President that stated, "The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!"
NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart fired back Monday in a conference call defending players' rights to peacefully protest what they view as racial inequality and police brutality.
"Everyone should know, including the president, this is what real locker room talk is," Lockhart said, in an apparent reference to the "Access Hollywood" tapes in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women.
Trump's spat with athletes comes as the president prepares to sell a tax overhaul plan and revive health care legislation - his party's top legislative priorities.
But instead of publicly prioritizing policy and courting votes, the provocateur president spent three days attacking the NFL players who kneel during the national anthem. On Friday night, during a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, Trump said: "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 also rescinded a White House invitation for basketball player Stephen Curry, a star player on the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
The president's words sparked a massive show of defiance this weekend, with more than 200 NFL players protesting by choosing not to stand for the national anthem and many coaches locking arms with the players.
"I just think it's one of those things that's got to continue the way it is. I believe there are some things that need to be addressed," said Rivera about the prospect of seeing continued protests.