Donald Trump continued his verbal war against the NFL on Thursday morning by telling a "Fox & Friends" correspondent that he thinks owners are "afraid of their players," and the backlash was swift.
"It does sound a little bit -- and obviously you can come at me on Twitter about this -- like he's saying, 'control your dog ... you're supposed to tell these guys what to do,'" CNN host Chris Cuomo said on "New Day" Thursday shortly after the interview with Fox aired.
"He is setting up the ugliest kind of tension you can," Cuomo added. "And I know that when you say, 'Control your dog,' it's got a lot of racial overtones in it -- so does this situation."
ESPN host Jemele Hill, who has previously incurred the wrath of Trump for calling him a white supremacist on Twitter, shared a similar sentiment upon hearing the president's accusation that NFL owners fear their players.
"The NFL cannot disrespect our country, they cannot disrespect our flag or our national anthem," Trump said. "And they can't have people sitting down or kneeling down during our national anthem. I saw this a year ago with [Colin] Kaepernick, and said, 'This is a terrible thing.' I thought it was a terrible."
Trump added, "Most people agree with me," and argued that since the NFL has "rules for everything," such as no dancing in the end zone, the league should be "honoring this country" by forcing all players to stand at attention during the national anthem.
"I have so many friends that are owners. They're in a box," Trump continued. "I've spoken to a couple of them, they said we are in a situation where we have to do something. I think they're afraid of their players, if you want to know the truth, and I think it's disgraceful."
"When it comes to the respect of our nation, when it comes to the respect of our anthem and our flag — they have no choice. You have to have people stand with respect," Trump concluded.
Even before Trump made that statement, director and producer Spike Lee ("Do the Right Thing") argued there was always a racial undercurrent running through Trump's criticism of NFL kneelers.
"When he says — he is really telling the owners — like the owners are the plantation owners and the guys playing in the league, they're on the plantation," Lee told CNN Wednesday. "You can't say anything. And so, the thing's really escalated."
The NFL vice president of communications, Joe Lockhart, has responded with this statement: "There have been statements made in the last 12 hours or so about the league and about the owners, and I will say that, very simply, they're not accurate. They're not factual. But I'm not going to get in the business of fact-checking, so I'll leave it there.
"I will say that this issue has been very much overtaken by political forces here, and one of the impacts of that is to distort the views of the NFL, the league, and particularly our players," he added.
Like just about everything else Trump says or does, his assertion that NFL owners are afraid of their players is not going over well. People are analyzing the subtext of his statement and coming to unflattering conclusions.
Trump says the white owners of the NFL are "afraid" of its black players.