Panthers owner David Tepper: It’s ‘dead wrong’ to call players unpatriotic over protests

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper defended NFL players for their work in communities across the country and fired back at critics who repeatedly blast the league, most notably President Donald Trump.

“These are some of the most patriotic people and best people,” Tepper told CNBC Thursday in an interview at Carnegie Mellon University when asked about the attention given to social inequality protests during the pregame playing of the national anthem. “These are great young men. So to say that (they aren't patriotic) makes me so aggravated and angry. It's just wrong, it's dead wrong.”

Though Tepper didn’t name Trump, who has been outspoken in his criticism of the NFL – going as far as saying players who don’t stand for the national anthem should be suspended or released – he referred to him in a follow up question from CNBC, asking about the protests as a point of debate.

“We're talking about it?” Tepper said. “I wasn't talking about it. There's a red-headed guy in D.C. that likes to talk about it, but I don't want to mention his name.”

NFL players' protests started with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision in 2016 to first sit and then kneel during the anthem. Kaepernick spearheaded a movement that has seen other players get involved in pushing for criminal justice reform and creating programs that funnel resources into impoverished communities.

“It's the pledge of allegiance, one of the most patriotic things you can do,” Tepper said. “It's about justice for all. Now listen, everybody's standing this season, because I think people understand that it's what you do in the community, it's what you do out here.”

NFL owners passed a revised anthem policy in May that mandated players either stand on the field for the song or remain in the locker room. After blowback from the NFL Players Association, however, the policy was put on hold as discussions between the league and the union continue.

During last weekend’s kickoff of the regular season, only a handful of players protested, though the work and programs players continue to do in communities remains strong. In his interview with CNBC, Tepper lamented that more attention isn’t given to those efforts as much as the attention given to the protests.

“You've got a lot of people that do a lot of good things,” Tepper said. “So I think maybe the league could do more, maybe they can maybe they can't, saying how much good the players do. Get that message out more.”

Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.

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