Trump keeps attention on NFL dispute, praises NASCAR
Donald Trump (Screen Capture)

President Donald Trump on Monday said the National Football League "must respect" the U.S. flag and national anthem at its games, a day after his earlier comments on the controversial issue triggered protests on football fields across the country.

In a series of early posts on Twitter, Trump renewed his call for action to be taken against the NFL and other athletes who kneel when the national anthem is played at games, a move he again denied was linked to 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!" Trump said.

In another post, he also praised the NASCAR motorcar league which, according to media reports, saw no signs of demonstrations on Sunday.

National Football League coaches, staff and some owners joined players in a show of silent solidarity at their games on Sunday, after repeated comments by Trump that the league should fire any players who have knelt in protest during the anthem. Some chose to kneel on Sunday, while others linked arms.

Some players recently began taking a knee in protest during the national anthem to call attention to what they saw as a pattern of racism in the treatment of African-Americans by U.S. police.

But the gesture took on new meaning over the weekend in defiance of Trump's comments since Friday, when he drew fresh attention to the controversy at a rally in Alabama.

While some Americans are sympathetic to the protesters and their right to free speech, others have criticized their actions as a sign of disrespect for the country.

Sunday's displays highlighted a deep political rift that Trump's election has exposed across many segments of American society that now appears to include major league sports, a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Trump also urged NFL fans to consider boycotting games.

On Saturday, Trump also lashed out over the weekend at NBA basketball star Stephen Curry, whose California-based Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship in June, and rescinded an invitation to Curry to visit the White House.

Winners of major league sport titles have typically been invited and appeared at the White House to be honored by the U.S. president as a matter of routine. But some players have said they will not appear.

Trump later praised NHL's Stanley Cup winner, the Pittsburgh Penguins, saying the hockey team had accepted his White House invitation.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum)