WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Donald Trump slammed the National Football League (NFL) again on Wednesday (Oct 18) for not forcing players to stand for the national anthem.
Trump waded back into the anthem controversy with an early morning tweet after NFL team owners and player representatives met in New York on Tuesday.
"The NFL has decided that it will not force players to stand for the playing of our National Anthem," Trump said. "Total disrespect for our great country!"
The meeting between owners and players ended with no agreement on the thorny issue of protests during The Star-Spangled Banner, which has bitterly divided the sport and fans of the game.
A joint statement released by the NFL and the NFL Players Association described the meeting in New York as "productive".
"NFL executives and owners joined NFLPA executives and player leaders to review and discuss plans to utilise our platform to promote equality and effectuate positive change," the statement said.
"We agreed that these are common issues and pledged to meet again to continue this work together."
The statement also stressed that "everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military".
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick launched the protests in 2016, refusing to stand for the national anthem to draw attention to racial injustice and police brutality.
The protests had mostly fizzled out until last month, when Trump reignited the issue by decrying any player who kneeled during the anthem as a "son of a b***h" who should be fired.
Trump's remarks sparked a furious backlash amongst NFL players, team owners and league officials, with large-scale protests by players during the anthem in the weekend following the president's tirade.
Trump has maintained his offensive against the protesting athletes, on Monday calling for the NFL to suspend players who continued to kneel.
Existing NFL policy says players "should" stand for the anthem but does not explicitly make it mandatory.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league had not sought a commitment by players to stand for the anthem at Tuesday's talks.
"We did not ask for that," Goodell said. "We spent today talking about the issues that players have been trying to bring attention to - issues to make our communities better... that was the entire focus of today."
Polls have found that a majority of Americans disapprove of the anthem protests but are unhappy with the way Trump has handled the issue.
The protests have also created divisions amongst NFL team owners. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said any of his players kneeling during the anthem risked being benched.
However, San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York has reportedly vowed to stand by players who continue to kneel.