As a candidate and as president, Trump's approach has at times seemed to inflame racial tensions in a deeply divided country while emboldening groups long in the shadows. Little more than a month ago, Trump came under fire for his response to a white supremacists' protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump also pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa County, who had been found guilty of defying a judge's order to stop racially profiling Latinos.
Trump's latest entry into the intersection of sports and politics started in Alabama on Friday night, when he said NFL players who refused to stand for "The Star-Spangled Banner" are exhibiting a "total disrespect of our heritage."
Several NFL players, starting last season with then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have either knelt, sat or raised fists during the anthem to protest police treatment of blacks and social injustice. Last week at NFL games, four players sat or knelt during the anthem, and two raised fists while others stood by the protesters in support.
"That's a total disrespect of everything that we stand for," Trump said, encouraging owners to act. He added, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you'd say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired.' "
On Saturday, Trump echoed his stance.
"If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem," Trump tweeted. "If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!"
Trump has enjoyed strong support from NFL owners, with at least seven of them donating $1 million each to Trump's inaugural committee. They include New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, whom Trump considers a friend.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell strongly backed the players and criticized Trump for "an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL," while several team owners issued similar statements. New York Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch said the comments were inappropriate and offensive. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who has supported the players who have knelt, said the country "needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness," and 49ers CEO Jed York ripped Trump's comments as "callous."
Plenty of other current and former stars from across sports weighed in Saturday. Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks said the president's behavior is "unacceptable and needs to be addressed."
In his Friday remarks, Trump also bemoaned what he called a decline in violence in football, noting that it's "not the same game" because players are now either penalized or thrown out of games for aggressive tackles.
"No man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights," DeMaurice Smith, the NFL Players Association executive director, said Saturday. "No worker nor any athlete, professional or not, should be forced to become less than human when it comes to protecting their basic health and safety."
Trump has met with some championship teams already in his first year in office.
Clemson visited the White House this year after winning the College Football Playoff, and some members of the New England Patriots went after the Super Bowl victory and the Chicago Cubs went to the Oval Office in June to commemorate their World Series title. The Cubs also had the larger and more traditional visit with President Barack Obama in January, four days before the Trump inauguration.
North Carolina, the reigning NCAA men's basketball champion, said Saturday it will not visit the White House this season. The Tar Heels cited scheduling conflicts.
Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, said Trump has "taken indecency to a new low."
"I think that the president has forgotten that he is the standard-bearer for our country, that little boys and little girls look up to the president," he said. "Little boys and little girls want to be like the president. They want to talk like the president. I think that the president has insulted the American people with this low level of verbiage."
Warriors forward Draymond Green said the good news was that Golden State won't have to talk about going to the White House again — unless they win another title during the Trump presidency.
"Michelle Obama said it best," Green said. "She said it best. They go low. We go high. He beat us to the punch. Happy the game is over."