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Aaron Rodgers wants NFL to 'ignore' Trump's criticisms of league

Jul 26, 2018; Ashwaubenon, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field. Mandatory Credit: Adam Wesley/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin via USA TODAY NETWORK

One of the major problems the NFL has been having with the issue of player protests during the national anthem is that while league officials desperately want the whole thing to go away, President Donald Trump might not. Criticisms of protests, and the league's handling of them, have been a frequent theme for Trump in his tweets and speeches at rallies, amid strong indications that he thinks his hard-line stance plays well with his base.

That has greatly exacerbated the problem for the NFL, but Aaron Rodgers has a solution: Just "ignore" the president's provocative commentary.

"I think that the more that we give credence to stuff like that, the more it's going to live on," the Packers quarterback said Monday to NFL.com's Michael Silver. "I think if we can learn to ignore or not respond to stuff like that - if we can - it takes away the power of statements like that."

The league has already tried to tamp down the protests by announcing a new policy in May that called for all NFL personnel, players and staffers alike, to "stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem." However, an allowance was made for those who preferred to remain in the locker room as the anthem was being performed, and Trump was quick to seize on that as unacceptable.

"I don't think people should be staying in locker rooms," he told Fox News at the time, adding, "You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there, maybe you shouldn't be in the country."

The suggestion that players who protest during the anthem should be deported was met with noteworthy derision by some NFL players, including the Seahawks' Doug Baldwin, who said of Trump, "He's an idiot. Plain and simple." The Broncos' Brandon Marshall described the president's comments as "disgusting," while the Eagles' Chris Long said the new policy reflected NFL owners' "fear of a president turning his base against a corporation."

Trump returned to the topic during a July rally in Great Falls, Montana, saying of the option to let players remain in their respective locker rooms, "Isn't that worse than not standing? That doesn't play. I actually think in many ways it's worse."

Later in the month, the NFL put the policy on hold as it attempted to come to a "resolution to the anthem issue" with the players union. That was spurred, at least in part, by an awareness that the issue had hardly been laid to rest, and that a portion of the policy allowing teams' to create their own rules regarding conduct during the anthem was likely to result in many more headaches for the league, but Trump offered his own solution.

"First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!" Trump tweeted, while declaring that the "$40,000,000 [NFL] Commissioner," Roger Goodell, "must now make a stand."

Shortly after that tweet, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who had reportedly said in a deposition earlier in the year that Trump told him, "This is a very winning, strong issue for me," described the president's "interest in what we're doing" regarding anthem policies as "problematic." Before that, Giants co-owner Steve Tisch had said of Trump, "He has no understanding of why they take a knee or why they're protesting. When the new season starts, I hope his priorities are not criticizing the NFL and telling owners what to do and what not to do."

Rodgers, in his comments to Silver, expressed frustration with the criticism he and other players have received, both from Trump and from many fans via social media, that those who stage protests during the anthem, or at least aren't overtly opposed to doing so, are disrespecting the U.S. military.

"I don't know how many times we can say, as a player and as a group, how much we love and support and appreciate the troops, and the opportunities this country allows us," Rodgers said. "But this is about equality and something bigger than ourselves, and bringing people together, and love and connectedness and equality and social justice, and putting a light on people who deserve to have the attention for their causes and their difficult situations that they're in.

"You know, people have their opinion - you shouldn't do it during the anthem, you shouldn't do it during this - that's fine. But let's not take away from what the real issue is."

Of course, NFL players aren't the only prominent athletes singled out for criticism by Trump, with the most recent example the president's tweeted insult of the intelligence of NBA superstar LeBron James. Rodgers said the fact that James did not immediately return fire was "absolutely beautiful."

"At a time where he's putting on display his school, which is changing lives, there's no need," the two-time NFL MVP said of James. "Because you're just giving attention to that [tweet]; that's what they want. So just don't respond."

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This article was written by Des Bieler, a reporter for The Washington Post.

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