WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the National Football League should not be given tax breaks, wading back into his criticism of the league over silent player protests during the national anthem.
"Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!" Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.
It was not clear what exactly Trump was demanding, and representatives for the White House did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The NFL gave up its federal tax-exempt status in 2015, according to media reports, although U.S. states and localities still offer the multi-billion dollar league tax breaks in order to attract teams and to finance stadiums.
Trump has been on a tear for weeks against NFL players who kneel during the national anthem played before games, saying the gesture disrespects the country. His strongly worded call last month for players who did this to be fired touched off an initially sharp response, including from some team owners and coaches.
The players' silent demonstration, which began last year in protest against police violence toward racial minorities, was embraced more widely in reaction to Trump's more recent comments, with more players taking the knee while others chose to lock arms.
A number of Republican lawmakers suggested in September that tax sweeteners should end given the protests, the Washington Post reported.
On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an NFL game after some players knelt. Separately, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he would bench players who disrespect the U.S. flag.
On Monday, cable sports network ESPN was drawn into the fray when it suspended one of its broadcasters after she posted a tweet about the protests and Jones' comment. ESPN, which is owned by Walt Disney Co, said it was Jemele Hill's second violation of its social media guidelines.
Hill, who had said that those who rejected Jones' comment should look at the team's advertisers, later tweeted that she was not urging an NFL boycott.
In a separate Twitter post on Tuesday, Trump excoriated Hill, saying that with her "at the mike, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have 'tanked,' in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!"
The NFL Players Association has defended players' right to protest.
Trump's former Democratic rival in the 2016 presidential race, Hillary Clinton, also backed the players, saying in a speech on Monday, "They are protesting racism and injustice, and they have every right to do so."
Critics of Trump, a Republican, have said he is fanning a controversy over the national anthem at NFL games to distract from pressing issues his administration is dealing with, from a powerful hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico to tensions with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars the government from limiting free speech, including prohibiting protests around the national anthem or punishing people who choose not to stand. The national anthem is played before every NFL football game and many other sporting events.
(Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Frances Kerry)