For football fans, it was a weekend filled with upsets, dramatic game-deciding calls from referees – and politics.
President Trump set his sights on the National Football League when he lashed out at athletes who protest the national anthem before games.
The response from the NFL and its players was swift and unavoidable as the weekend’s games brought opposing teams together, united against a common enemy: the president.
Read on for a look at Trump’s gripes with the sport.
Cowboys gain ground with Trump
After the Dallas Cowboy’s Monday night game, Trump tweeted that “big progress” was made.
Along with team owner Jerry Jones, the Cowboys briefly knelt together before the national anthem. But when the “Star-Spangled Banner” played, the Cowboys stood with locked arms. The Arizona Cardinals did the same.
“The booing at the NFL football game last night, when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees, was the loudest I have ever heard. Great anger,” Trump tweeted.
“But will Dallas dropped to its knees as a team, they all stood up for our National Anthem,” he continued. “Big progress being made – we all love our country.”
On Wednesday, Trump said that he had spoken to Jones, calling him a “winner who knows how to get things done.” He also said athletes “will stand for our Country!”
Sarah Sanders takes a shot
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday that it is “always appropriate for the President of the United States to defend our flag, to defend the national anthem and to defend the men and women who fought and died to defend it.”
Sanders was asked multiple times about Trump’s attack on the NFL during Monday’s press briefing and suggested that athletes should protest “the [police] officers on the field who are protecting them instead of the American flag.”
Race versus respect
Trump said Monday that his issue with athletes’ protests was about “respect” for the U.S. and not race.
“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!” he said.
Brady breaks Trump’s tackle
Despite his friendship with Trump, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said he disagreed with the president’s remarks.
“I certainly disagree with what he said. I thought it was just divisive,” Brady said.
Game time decisions
After the president’s speech and tweets, multiple NFL teams and players decided to take a stand – by taking a knee or remaining in the locker room during Sunday’s games.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans all remained in their locker rooms while “The Star-Spangled Banner” played.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said the decision was made by the team “not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but to remove ourselves from this circumstance.” Alejandro Villanueva, an offensive tackle and former Army Ranger, came out alone and stood while the anthem played.
NFL Sunday kicked off with players for the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars taking a knee or locking arms during the national anthem. Other teams followed suit.
While the locked arms was meant to be a display of unity among NFL players, Trump tweeted his support for the gesture.
“Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!” he said.
Trump tweeted a total of six times Sunday about the American flag and protests.
Trump tackles athlete protesters
While in Alabama to campaign for Sen. Luther Strange in the final days before the special election, Trump took a moment to slam athletes who kneel in protest during the national anthem – reigniting a debate that had begun to be dormant.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘get that son of a b—- off the field right now, out, he’s fired,'” Trump said to cheers.
“You know, the NFL ratings are down massively, massively,” Trump said as he railed against the league’s officiating on certain tackles. “A referee gets on television, his wife is sitting at home, she’s so proud of him. They’re ruining the game.”
Trump accused “those people taking a knee” during the anthem of “hurting” football and encouraged people to “leave the stadium” if just one player protests.
Buffalo Bills come up short
Before he became president, Trump owned the New Jersey Generals of the now-defunct United States Football League. Trump pushed for the league’s games to be played in the fall, in competition with the NFL, and was widely blamed for the collapse of the league.
After the USFL folded in 1985, Trump unsuccessfully tried to be a NFL team owner.
Trump lost a bidding war to become the Buffalo Bills’ new owner in 2014. He was outbid by Terry Pegula, 66, who reportedly paid $1.4 billion for the team.
Trump decried the NFL and the team on Twitter multiple times after losing the ownership fight.
“The [NFL] games are so boring now that actually, I’m glad I didn’t get the Bills. Boring games, too many flags, too soft!” Trump said on Oct. 13, 2014.