President Trump turned on the NFL commissioner this evening, after Roger Goodell spoke out about the president condemning players who kneel in protest during the national anthem and calling on team owners to fire those players.
In a tweet, Trump said Goodell is "trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country."
Goodell did not mention the president by name in his statement earlier today.
"Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities."
NFL players across the league and their union -- and even some team officials -- were more direct in their response to Trump's criticism Friday night of the handful of NFL players who have kneeled or sat on the bench during the national anthem performed before games over the past two seasons. The practice was most famously done by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick, who is currently unsigned, began kneeling in the preseason in 2016 as a sign of protest over the treatment of blacks in the U.S.
Trump, speaking at a rally in Alabama on Friday, said, "Wouldn’t you love to see one of the NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say 'Get that son of a b---- off the field right now?'"
"You know, some owner ... is going to say, 'That guy who disrespects our flag, he’s fired,'" the president said to thunderous applause and cheers.
The president of the NFL Players Union, which represents current and former players, released a statement on Saturday: "The balance between the rights of every citizen in our great country gets crossed when someone is told to just 'shut up and play.'"
Union President DeMaurice Smith acknowledged in his statement that “the peaceful demonstrations by some of our players" haven't been universally supported, but "have generated a wide array of responses."
But, he added, "Those opinions are protected speech and a freedom that has been paid for by the sacrifice of men and women throughout history ... No man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights."
Hours later Trump fired back at his critics, tweeting that it was a "privilege" for athletes to earn a lucrative career in professional sports.
San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York weighed in Saturday afternoon, called the president's comments "callous and offensive" and "contradictory to this great country stands for."
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross did not refer to the president directly, but said in a statement the country "needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness." abcnews