US President Donald Trump criticises NFL players who have been protesting against perceived social injustice

Players across the league have been protesting during the national anthem since last season. Credit: PA

United States president Donald Trump has launched a scathing attack on NFL players who protest during the American anthem, insisting their team owners should "fire" those who do.

Various players across the league have taken a stand by kneeling or raising their fist during The Star-Spangled Banner since the start of last season, including high-profile figures like Colin Kaepernick, Michael Bennett and Marshawn Lynch.

Kaepernick, who remains unemployed despite leading a team to the Super Bowl at the end of the 2012 season, was the first to protest over perceived racial injustice and police brutality, with Bennett recently admitting the scenes at a white supremacist rally in Virginia partially motivated his own decision.

Speaking at a rally in Alabama on Friday night, President Trump criticised those who have decided to take a stance during the customary pre-game anthem.

He said: "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a b**ch off the field right now. Out. He's fired. He's fired'. Wouldn't you love it?

"Some owner's going to do that. He's going to say, 'That guy who disrespects our flag, he's fired'. And that owner, they don't know it - they're friends of mine, many of them - they'll be the most popular person for a week in this country. That's a total disrespect of our heritage, that's a total disrespect of everything that we stand for. I know we have freedoms and freedom of choice and many different freedoms but it's still totally disrespectful."

The national anthem is played at the start of each NFL game. Credit: PA

The president went on to suggest the NFL's television ratings are down because of their policy on punishing tackles where players lead with their helmets, action the league has taken in an attempt to cut down on the number of head-related injuries players suffer.

Trump then continued to tell the crowd about his view on those who protest during the anthem.

"Do you know what's hurting the game more than that? When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they're playing our great national anthem," Trump said.

"The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it's only one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Just pick up and leave. It's not the same game any more anyway."

A number of current and retired NFL players took to Twitter to express their disbelief at their president's speech.