Baker: Trump should focus on “Presidential issues”

Governor says he stands for anthem, but players have right to free expression

BOSTON (State House News Service) – Ahead of a trip to Washington later this week as a member of a presidential commission, Gov. Charlie Baker found fault Monday with President Trump’s comments about professional athletes kneeling during the National Anthem.

When asked about the situation in the NFL — some players kneeling during the anthem while others stand — Baker brought up Trump. “Well first of all, I thought the president’s comments were unpresidential and divisive,” he said.

“That said, I stand for the National Anthem, but it’s a free country and people have the right to exercise their First Amendment rights here, and that’s as it should be,” Baker told reporters after an event Monday at the State House.

The governor is headed to Washington as a member of the White House’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, and said last week he expects the commission to release a final report soon.

Baker said he would like to see Trump set aside his recent spat with the NFL and focus on other issues.

“Teams handle this thing in completely different ways, and as is often the case with this type of thing, I think the most important thing for me is I think the president should focus on what I would call presidential issues — we have plenty of them to deal with — and let the players play,” Baker said.

At a political rally Friday night in Alabama, Trump said team owners should fire players who protest by kneeling during the National Anthem.

“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 shouted.

Trump also referenced his friendships with NFL team owners. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is a close friend of the president’s.

“You know, some owner’s gonna do that. He’s gonna say, that guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired. And that owner, they don’t know it, they don’t know it, they’re friends of mine many of them, they don’t know, they’ll be the most popular person for a week,” Trump said.

The issue was still on the president’s mind Monday morning, when he tweeted just after 7:30 a.m. that “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!”