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Roger Goodell, NFLPA angrily denounce Trump's 'divisive comments'

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AP

Roger Goodell, NFLPA angrily denounce Trump's 'divisive comments'

SOMERSET, N.J. -- The National Football League and its players' union on Saturday angrily denounced President Donald Trump for suggesting that owners fire players who kneel during the national anthem and that fans consider walking out in protest "when somebody disrespects our flag."

"Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players," the league commissioner, Roger Goodell, said in a statement.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, tweeted: "We will never back down. We no longer can afford to stick to sports."

Trump, during a political rally in Alabama on Friday night, also blamed a drop in NFL ratings on the nation's interest in "yours truly" as well as what he contended was a decline in violence in the game.

Smith said the union won't shy away from "protecting the constitutional rights of our players as citizens as well as their safety as men who compete in a game that exposes them to great risks."

Trump kept up his foray into the sports world on Saturday, when he responded to comments by Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, who has made it clear that he's not interested in a traditional White House trip for the NBA champions

"Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!" Trump tweeted while spending the weekend at his golf club in New Jersey.

It was not immediately clear whether Trump was rescinding the invitation for Curry or the entire team.

Several athletes, including a handful of NFL players, have refused to stand during "The Star-Spangled Banner" to protest of the treatment of blacks by police. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the trend last year when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, hasn't been signed by an NFL team for this season.

Trump, who once owned the New Jersey Generals of the U.S. Football League, said those players are disrespecting the American flag and deserve to lose their jobs.

"That's a total disrespect of our heritage. That's a total disrespect of everything that we stand for," Trump said, encouraging owners to act.

"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," Trump said to loud applause.

Trump also predicted that any owner who followed the presidential encouragement would become "the most popular person in this country" - at least for a week.

The players' union said in a statement that "no man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights. 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."

The NFLPA said "the line that marks the balance between the rights of every citizen in our great country gets crossed when someone is told to just 'shut up and play.'"

On the issue of violence on the field, Trump said players are being thrown out for aggressive tackles, and it's "not the same game."

Over the past several seasons, the NFL and college football have increased penalties and enforcement for illegal hits to the head and for hitting defenseless players. A July report on 202 former football players found evidence of a debilitating brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them. The league has agreed to pay $1 billion to retired players who claimed it misled them about the concussion dangers of playing football.

During his campaign, Trump often expressed nostalgia for the "old days" - claiming, for example, that protesters at his rallies would have been carried out on stretchers back then. He recently suggested police officers should be rougher with criminals and shouldn't protect their heads when pushing them into squad cars.

It's also not the first time he's raised the kneeling issue. Earlier this year he took credit for the fact that Kaepernick hadn't been signed.

Television ratings for the NFL have been slipping since the beginning of the 2016 season. The league and observers have blamed a combination of factors, including competing coverage of last year's presidential election, more viewers dropping cable television, fans' discomfort with the reports of head trauma and the anthem protests.

Ratings have been down even more in the early 2017 season, though broadcasters and the league have blamed the hurricanes that hit Florida and Texas. Still, the NFL remains by far the most popular televised sport in the United States.

Trump said the anthem protest was the top reason NFL viewership had waned.

"You know what's hurting the game?" he asked. "When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they're playing our great national anthem," he said.

Trump encouraged his supporters to pick up and leave the stadium next time they spot a player failing to stand.

"I guarantee things will stop," he said.

Brandon Aiyuk showcases lofty potential with insane one-handed catch

Brandon Aiyuk showcases lofty potential with insane one-handed catch

With Deebo Samuel's injury, more will be placed on Brandon Aiyuk's plate initially as the 49ers look to get off to a hot start in their quest to return to the Super Bowl.

Samuel is expected to be out 12 to 16 weeks with a Jones fracture, although the second-year wide receiver is confident he can be back in 10.

The 49ers drafted Aiyuk with the No. 25 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, believing his ability to create big plays after the catch and take the top off defenses will fit perfectly in Kyle Shanahan's offense. Some might be concerned that Aiyuk only had one solid season of college production and he might start slow as he transitions to the NFL. But the Arizona State product showed off his immense potential with a ridiculous one-handed catch during a recent workout.

Play it again.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Yes, rookie receivers often take time to transition to the NFL. There is a possibility that Aiyuk will have some early hiccups, but it's clear what the 49ers see in him.

After losing Emmanuel Sanders in free agency, the 49ers were in need of a receiver to come in and pair with Samuel, Kendrick Bourne and tight end George Kittle. Aiyuk has all the tools the 49ers value in wide receivers, from blistering speed game speed to insane YAC ability. His 80-inch wingspan also makes it easier for him to make impressive grabs on throws that he has to go up and get.

Not everything will be placed on Aiyuk's shoulders if Samuel can't return for Week 1. Kittle remains the best tight end in football. Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor both are back from injuries, and Dante Pettis still has time to reach his NFL potential. The 49ers should be able to spread Samuel's responsibilities around so that the early success of the offense isn't predicated on Aiyuk making a smooth transition to the NFL after a virtual-meetings only offseason due to the coronavirus pandemic.

[RELATED: Shanahan made Belichick's desired move in picking Garoppolo over Brady]

It's fair to wonder how good Aiyuk can be out of the gate. Some see him as the key to the 49ers' success in 2020.

But Aiyuk's talent is clear, and Jimmy Garoppolo is going to love having him in the pattern.

Kyle Shanahan picking Jimmy Garoppolo over Tom Brady was Bill Belichick's aim

Kyle Shanahan picking Jimmy Garoppolo over Tom Brady was Bill Belichick's aim

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, will shine a fresh light on some of the most notable moments and figures in sports. The sixth episode tells the story of "The Bill Belichick You Don't Know," profiling a different side of the New England Patriots' iconic coach.

Few in NFL history can claim to have done something Bill Belichick hasn't. Let alone, do something Belichick wanted to but couldn't.

Kyle Shanahan finds himself in that category after a 2020 NFL offseason that closed the books on the longest-running dynasty in sports. With Tom Brady wanting to come to the Bay Area and finish his career in San Francisco, Shanahan weighed the pros and cons of bringing in a 42-year-old Brady and shipping out Jimmy Garoppolo. In the end, Shanahan chose Garoppolo over Brady, believing he gives the 49ers the best chance to win a title.

A plan Belichick wanted to execute in New England a few years ago.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

For 20 years Belichick and Tom Brady ruled the NFL with an iron first. Both self-made, strong-willed men, Brady and Belichick put their differences aside in the name of winning, believing they were stronger together than apart. But, as is often the case, bitterness festered as the years went by. Belichick's harsh personality wore on Brady. Each wanted more credit for the success of their dynastic run. Each believed they had more to do with the six Super Bowl titles than their partner.

Belichick, known for being cold and calculated when building a roster, started to since the end was near for Brady early in the last decade. He drafted Garoppolo with the 62nd overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Brady's successor was in place.

Brady threw a wrench into Belichick's plan and started swinging back at Father Time. The Patriots won their fourth Super Bowl during Garoppolo's rookie season, with Brady carving up the Seattle Seahawk's vaunted defense en route to a win (with some help from Pete Carroll). With Brady's competitive engine pushed to full throttle, Garoppolo was stapled to the bench as Brady continued his assault on Joe Montana's status as the GOAT.

Even with the Patriots back to winning Super Bowls, Belichick knew Brady's clock was ticking. He didn't want to be left holding the bag when the legendary quarterback went off the cliff.

With Brady suspended for the first four games of the 2017 season due to the Deflategate scandal, Garoppolo got his chance to lead the Patriots. He won his first two starts, throwing for 502 yards and four touchdowns. He suffered a shoulder injury in Week 2 and was unable to start the final two games of Brady's suspension.

Still, Belichick reportedly was ready to hand the keys over to Garoppolo. Brady, who had maintained he could play well into his 40s, wasn't close to hanging it up. Brady made it clear he had plans to be the team's franchise quarterback well into the future, something that owner Robert Kraft was more than happy to accept. It didn't sit well with Belichick, who had been grooming Garoppolo to take over, and the young quarterback was set to be a free agent after the 2017 season. Paying two quarterbacks starter money wasn't in the cards for the Patriots.

With conflict reportedly festering between Brady, Belichick and Kraft, Kraft ordered Belichick to trade Garoppolo, according to a report from ESPN's Seth Wickersham. According to the report, the demand left Belichick dejected and furious that Kraft had intervened in football operations, per Wickersham's explosive report.

When Belichick called 49ers general manager John Lynch and the 49ers, he reportedly first offered Brady to the 49ers instead of Garoppolo, according to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller. Lynch previously has said he ask Belichick about Brady and got a laugh out of Belichick, We'll probably never know how everything went down.

Either way, it ended with Belichick shipping Garoppolo, the quarterback he wanted to start the next phase of his reign with, to San Francisco for pennies on the dollar. Make no mistake, Belichick was ready to move on from Brady for some time before the Garoppolo trade.

He saw the writing on the wall, and knew his play would drop off. He doesn't feel nostalgia for the times of old, nor did he feel indebted to Brady. Football is a business. Bottom line. Belichick makes cold, calculated decisions better than most.

He wanted to choose Garoppolo over Brady. He wanted to win with Garoppolo and believed he could. He was denied the opportunity.

[RELATED: Brady became 49ers villain by being reminder of greatness lost, opportunities missed]

Two seasons after Garoppolo was shipped across the country, Brady packed up his bags and left the cold of 1 Patriot Place for the sunshine of Tampa Bay. Discarded the Patriot Way to enjoy his remaining years of football on one of the NFL's least iconic franchises.

It wasn't his first choice. Brady reportedly wanted to come home to the Bay, and bring a title to the franchise he cheered growing up. Once again the choice was between him and his former protege. Shanahan and Lynch discussed it, played out the scenarios and ended up walking the road Belichick wished he could travel.

They chose Garoppolo, fresh off a Super Bowl berth, over Brady, who has lifted the Lombardi Trophy six times.

It's not easy to say no to an icon. Hard to turn your back on a GOAT. Even more difficult to do so for a 28-year-old quarterback with only 26 career starts. It's a move Belichick, who rules with no personal attachment, was ready to make believing he'd gotten all he could from Brady and that it was in his and the Patriots' interest to put Garoppolo under center.

For Shanahan, his decision was based not on the idea that Brady was done, but in that Garoppolo has yet to reach his peak. The two share a bond, one found between offensive-minded head coaches and their quarterback. One Brady and the defensive-minded Belichick never fostered. Shanahan believes in Garoppolo and knows he can get better with another full year in the system under his belt.

Shanahan did what Belichick wanted to but couldn't and chose Garoppolo over Brady.

Now, comes the hard part: Winning a title and proving that was the right decision.