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Peppers Sits Out National Anthem As Rivera Presses Team To Stand

Carolina Panthers

Julius Peppers was missing from the field as the national anthem played during Sunday's game against New Orleans. The Carolina Panthers' defensive end was in the locker room, sitting out the anthem in protest of recent comments made by President Trump.

"This wasn't about disrespecting the military, disrespecting the flag, police, first responders - none of that." Peppers told reporters after the game. "It wasn't about that. It was about me making a decision as a man on my two feet."

Peppers said his actions were directed specifically at "comments made by the president."

"I felt like he attacked our brothers - my brothers - in the league," he said, "so I felt like it was appropriate to stand up with them and stay in the locker room."

Trump's string of comments taking on professional athletes began Friday, when he told a crowd of supporters in Alabama that football players who fail to stand for the national anthem should be fired.

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now?'" he said.

On Saturday morning, Trump followed up by firing off a tweet in the direction of Stephen Curry of the NBA's Golden State Warriors. He rescinded an invitation to Curry to visit the White House, in apparent reaction to Curry saying on Friday that he wouldn't go.

"Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team," Trump wrote, "Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!"

Later in the day Saturday, Trump returned to Twitter to re-address his earlier comments.

"If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem," Trump wrote. "If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!"

The rest of the Carolina Panthers players stood with hands over hearts as the anthem played at Bank of American Stadium on Sunday. The players did not kneel or link arms as many others did across the league this weekend.

Coach Ron Rivera was asked at a post-game press conference whether he had discussed Trump's comments with his players. He said he had, and that he had encouraged the team to stand for the anthem, and "think and envision an America that we believe in that's free from injustice, that's free from bigotry, free from prejudice."

"We believe in America. We support our military. We support our first responders." Rivera said, "And we most certainly do not - do not - believe in racism and bigotry and we want to see that out of our country."

Rivera added, with exasperation, that it would be the last time he would address the issue.

"Quite honestly, that's the last time I'm going to talk about it, OK?" he said. "Anybody else about football?"

The Panthers ultimately lost their game against the New Orleans Saints, 34-13.