NFL players react to Trump's 'assault' on freedom of speech

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NFL players hit back at United States president Donald Trump over his comments about national anthem protests.

Several NFL owners followed commissioner Roger Goodell in denouncing the comments, calling the president's remarks and tweets "divisive" and "counterproductive", with some standing in solidarity with their players prior to Sunday's games.

Following the games, it was the players' turn to offer their opinions about Trump, who called for the firing of any "son of a b****" who kneels during the national anthem.

"We felt like president Trump's speech was an assault on our most cherished right, freedom of speech," Broncos linebacker Von Miller told reporters following Denver's 26-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Miller added he has massive respect for the military.

Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers decided to remain in the locker room during the playing of the anthem at Bank of America Stadium.

"I want to get one thing clear: This wasn't about disrespecting the military, disrespecting the police, first responders - none of that. It was about me making a decision as a man on my two feet. I didn't want to ask anybody else to do anything with me. I thought it was appropriate to stay in," Peppers said following Carolina's 34-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints. "We know what went on this week; the comments that were made by the president. I felt like he attacked our brothers - my brothers in the league. I felt it was appropriate to stand up with them and stay in the locker room.

"I know a lot of people might not understand it. A lot of people might be upset about it. And that's fine. I'm not living my life trying to make everybody happy. I'm doing things that I feel are right and things that I believe in. There are only a few times in a man's life where you have a chance to stand up for something that you believe in and make a statement. I thought that was that chance, and I took it."

The Steelers, Seahawks and Titans teams also remained in their respective locker rooms prior to their games. The only exception was Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, an Army veteran who served three tours in Afghanistan. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said his team were "not going to accept the words of the president".

"These are divisive times in the United States," Tomlin said. "It's a shame, but it is. But we're not politicians. We're coaches and professional athletes... I didn't appreciate our football team being dragged into politics this weekend. I'm sure that's a global perspective."

Dolphins safety Michael Thomas got emotional when he spoke about Trump's remarks.

"It just amazes me with everything else going on this world, especially involving the US, that's what you're concerned about? You're the leader of the free world," Thomas told reporters. "This is what you're talking about?

"As a man, as a father, as an African-American man, somebody in NFL player as one of those sons of b******, I took it personally, but it's bigger than me.

"I have a daughter. She's going to have to live in this world. I'm going to do whatever I have to do to make sure she can look at her dad and be like, 'You did something to try to make a change.'"