WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump said “a lot of people” from the NFL have been calling and thanking him for signing legislation addressing concerns with the criminal justice system.
Trump also said during an interview broadcast Sunday that he and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have set aside their differences over players kneeling during the national anthem.
Trump relentlessly criticized the practice as being disrespectful to the American flag and he faulted Goodell for not doing enough to stop it. Players saw kneeling during the “Star-Spangled Banner” as a prime opportunity to heighten public awareness of how minorities are treated by the criminal justice system.
The president pivoted to the new criminal justice law when he was asked if he thought the players who knelt had a point, along with whether he was sensitive to their concerns that most victims of police violence are black. Trump noted that the legislation was the product of years of effort dating to before he took office.
“And I got it done and I’ve been, you know, really, a lot of people in the NFL have been calling and thanking me for it,” Trump said in the interview broadcast during CBS’ Super Bowl pre-game show. “They have been calling and thanking, you know, that people have been trying to get that taken care of and it’s now signed into law.”
The law gives judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and will boost prisoner rehabilitation, among other efforts.
Trump then segued to his feelings about kneeling during the national anthem, without addressing the original question.
“I think that when you want to protest I think that’s great. But I don’t think you do it at the sake of our flag, at the sake of our national anthem. Absolutely,” he said.
The White House did not respond to emailed requests for information on which NFL figures have reached out to the president.
Asked whether he and Goodell had set aside their differences over kneeling, Trump said: “I think so,” adding that he feels strongly about not kneeling during the national anthem. “You have to respect our flag and our country. I want that as president. And I’d want that as a citizen and I have a very good relationship.”
Trump planned to watch Sunday’s matchup between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams from his private golf club in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump said he expected the Patriots to win a sixth Lombardi Trophy and visit the White House. The team is owned and coached by his friends, Bob Kraft and Bill Belichick, respectively.
Trump credited “great chemistry” for the team’s success.
“A team needs chemistry and they certainly have it,” said the president, who referred to Brady, 41, as “I guess, the greatest quarterback of all time.”
In the interview, Trump also complained about the New Orleans Saints’ loss to the Rams in January’s NFC title game.
Game officials failed to call interference or roughness penalties when a Rams player delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on a Saints receiver in the game’s crucial final minutes. The Rams won in overtime, advancing to meet the Patriots at the Super Bowl in Atlanta while the league acknowledged a blown “no-call.”
A federal judge later rejected a legal challenge by two Saints ticketholders seeking a do-over playoff game.
Trump blamed the outcome on a “bad call.”
“It’s a shame that we couldn’t have seen that game finished out, because that was a beautiful pass. And it was a perfect pass. And he was not just interfered with, he was, he was really hit hard,” the president said. “So it’s a shame that that had to happen. Who really knows what would have happened in the end?”
He said the Saints would have been in a good position to have won the conference title.
“But it is what it is. It was a bad call. I don’t think anybody denies it was a bad call,” Trump said. “Maybe it was a terrible call.”
Trump has a longtime friendship with Kraft, owner of the New England team. Kraft gave Trump a diamond-encrusted Super Bowl championship ring after the team’s most recent title in 2017. Kraft was among a group of at least seven team owners who contributed $1 million each to Trump’s inaugural committee.
Brady opted out when the Patriots visited the White House in April 2017, citing a “personal family matter.” Brady and Belichick both spoke supportively of Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, and one of Trump’s signature red “Make America Great Again” caps was seen in Brady’s locker in 2015.
“The Patriots were here two years ago and I’m sure they’ll be back,” Trump said of another White House visit.