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New Orleans Saints players sit on the bench during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone) ORG XMIT: NCCB101

Bob Leverone

The New Orleans Saints organization released a statement on Sunday afternoon condemning the statements President Donald Trump made at a rally in Alabama on Friday that attacked players in the NFL and their right to protest. 

"Our organization takes great pride in equality and inclusion and find the comments by the President disappointing and inappropriate relative to our players on the (issues). Tom Benson served in the military and continues to this day to support all military branches and feels strongly that we honor those men and women who defend our freedoms and our freedom of speech. He also believes that the very players that represent the Saints and Pelicans organizations should be allowed to share or express their feelings. We prefer to take this moment in time and work together, all of us, to stop the divisiveness. Our players and our organization serve the New Orleans community selflessly and do so without care of race, creed or sexual orientation and that makes us a better city and better team. We believe strongly in honoring our flag and the national anthem and what it represents, and we support our players. We all must strive to show that we are all Americans and continue to work towards equality for all. The NFL and NBA, perhaps more than any sports, have the power to bring communities together."

New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson is a former Naval officer who donates money to West Point, the Coast Guard and several other military organizations. 

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President Trump told supporters in Alabama on Friday night that NFL owners should fire any player who takes a knee during the national anthem, called players who participate in protests "sons of (expletive)" and doubled down on his opinions by reiterating them on Twitter on both Saturday and Sunday.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began a movement of protests around the league last year by kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial inequality in the United States. Kaepernick has donated more than $2 million to organizations fighting the same causes, and other players who kneeled, like Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall met with police departments to discuss their use-of-force policy.

Earlier this year, a group of Cleveland Browns knelt during the national anthem together, prompting an outcry from police, and after the two groups met, the Browns and the Cleveland police force took the field hand in hand. 

Trump's comments sparked a backlash from the NFL community. 

"The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we've experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities."

After Goodell's statement, the the owners of 14 other teams, who released statements expressing support for the rights of players to express their opinions and pride in the commitment of NFL players to community work. Executives from the Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Chargers, Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots have all released statements. Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a friend and supporter of Trump, issued a statement supporting his players and expressing disappointment in Trump's comments.

According to ESPN, Oakland owner Mark Davis has asked his players not to protest in uniform before, but Trump's comments have prompted him to change that request. 

A few owners have taken the step of participating in protest with their players.

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who donated $1 million to Donald Trump's inauguration, took the field for the national anthem in London, locking arms with two of his players as 24 players from the Ravens and Jaguars kneeled. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has indicated that he will be on the field in solidarity with his players.

At least one team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, will not take the field for the national anthem, according to CBS, protesting en masse by not standing for the anthem at all. The Steelers will remain in the locker room. 

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.