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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell backs teams and players after Sunday's response to Donald Trump

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 07: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell looks on before the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots at Gillette
Image: Roger Goodell was proud of the NFL's reaction to Donald Trump's comments on Sunday

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is proud of the way the league's players responded to criticism from President Donald Trump on Sunday.

Trump faced widespread anger from NFL teams and players after his call last week that players should be fired if they protested against perceived racial injustice in the United States by not standing for the national anthem.

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That protest had been started last season by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started to kneel during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner before games.

A handful more joined Kaepernick in his protest but, after Trump weighed into the debate last week, that number increased markedly on Sunday, more than 20 players kneeling at Wembley alone, where the Jacksonville Jaguars took on the Baltimore Ravens.

The Tennessee Titans, their opponents the Seattle Seahawks, and almost all of the Pittsburgh Steelers squad remained in their locker rooms while the anthem was being played.

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National anthem protests continue from NFL players before the Ravens took on the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium

Speaking to Sports Illustrated's Monday Morning Quarterback, Goodell said: "The way we reacted this weekend made me proud. I'm proud of our league.

"(The demonstrations) reflected the frustration, the disappointment, of the players over the divisive rhetoric we heard."

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Trump continued his NFL diatribe on Monday, saying that their protest had "nothing to do with race" after commenting on Sunday that supporters should start to boycott a league he claimed was dealing with "bad ratings".

US President Donald Trump addresses a rally for Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) at the Von Braun Civic Center September 22, 2017 in Huntsville, Alabama.
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Image: Trump said team owners should fire players who fail to respect the US national anthem

But Goodell said teams had shown unity in getting behind their players and he would be doing nothing to stop that - a number of them also issued lengthy statements on Sunday critical of Trump's stance.

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The Pittsburgh Steelers stayed in their locker room for the national anthem ahead of their game with Chicago Bears in protest at comments by President Trump

Goodell added: "I spent a lot of time listening to our players and coaches and owners over the past two days. They really care about our league. I just think we need more understanding.

"I was trying to find out with the players and coaches, 'How are you feeling? What's going on in your locker rooms?' They were trying to figure out ways to respond.

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Tom Brady, Richard Sherman, Von Miller and others have their say on some NFL players' decision to kneel during the national anthem

"I think we have to be focused on what the NFL is doing - staying true to our values, unifying people and continuing an effort to understand and help improve our communities.

"People love coming together around football. We saw nothing but exciting football today. I think the public loves our game and recognises the efforts we're making with it."

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