Steelers 'will not be on the field' for US national anthem after Trump comments

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said his players would not take the field for the national anthem as NFL teams responded to criticism from United States President Donald Trump.

At a rally in Alabama, Trump had delivered a scathing attack on NFL players who opt to kneel in protest when the Star-Spangled Banner is played prior to matches.

He claimed team owners should sack any player involved in such a demonstration and that fans should leave the stadium if they see it.

But while players from the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens defied Trump and knelt during the anthem at Wembley on Sunday, the Steelers took a different approach.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA Archive

"We will not be on the field," Tomlin told CBS ahead of his side's game against the Chicago Bears.

"These are very divisive times for our country. For us, as a football team, it's about us remaining solid. We're not going to be divided by anything said by anyone and that's the thing that I posted to our guys.

"I said, 'If you feel the need to do anything, I'm going to be supportive of that'. As Americans we have that right. But whatever we do, we're going to do 100 per cent, we're going to do together. We're not going to let divisive times or divisive individuals affect our agenda.

"This collection of men, we're chasing something here in 2017, and we're not going to play politics.

"We're football players, coaches, we're not participating in the anthem today. Not to be disrespectful to the anthem, (but) to remove ourselves from the circumstance.

"People shouldn't have to choose, if a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn't be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something he shouldn't be separated from his team-mate who chooses not to. So we're not participating today. That's our decision."

At Wembley, more than a dozen players took a knee as their national anthem played. Those who did not kneel linked arms, including Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who stood between Marcedes Lewis and Telvin Smith on the sidelines.

Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel in protest during the national anthem before the NFL International Series match at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA Wir

Khan, who also owns Championship football club Fulham, has previously donated one million US dollars to Trump's presidential inauguration.

Shortly after the contest got under way at Wembley, the Ravens posted a message on Twitter which read: "We recognise our players' influence. We respect their demonstration and support them 100 per cent. All voices need to be heard. That's democracy in its highest form."

The Jaguars tweeted a photo of Khan standing arm in arm with Lewis and Smith with the caption "Unity".

Trump had followed up Friday night's comment with a tweet the following day criticising NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who had called the president's comments "divisive".

On Sunday Trump took to social media again prior to kick-off at Wembley.

"If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!" he wrote from his account @RealDonaldTrump.

"...NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S."

Those who responded by taking a knee in London included high-profile stars like Terrell Suggs, Malik Jackson and Calais Campbell.

Further protests were expected back in the States across the later slate of games.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, one of the league's most recognisable figures, put a photo on Instagram on Sunday afternoon of him kneeling alongside team-mates during a warm-up with the caption: "#unity #brotherhood #family #dedication #love".

Away from the NFL, the NHL champions Pittsburgh Penguins said they planned to go ahead with a visit to the White House later this year.

"Any agreement or disagreement with a president's politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways," a statement read. "However, we very much respect the rights of other individuals and groups to express themselves as they see fit."

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