Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says it's time for professional football players to stop protesting racial inequality and police brutality during the national anthem and instead focus on denouncing domestic violence.
Walker sent a letter on Monday to the National Football League and the NFL Players Association with what he called a simple request: that players stand during the national anthem and use their platforms to stand against domestic violence.
"It is time for players in the NFL to stop their protests during the anthem and move on from what has become a divisive political sideshow," Walker wrote. "Instead, I encourage them to use their voices and influence to take a stand against domestic violence. With the NFL Fall League Meeting occurring tomorrow, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, now would be an especially opportune time to strongly condemn domestic violence and lead the charge in supporting safe families across America."
The Republican governor said the idea came to him last week during an awards ceremony at the state Capitol recognizing outstanding achievement in domestic abuse issues.
"As I sat and heard these amazing stories, it occurred to me that NFL players could have a remarkable impact on awareness and prevention efforts if each player would agree to speak out, as well as agree to take a personal stand, against domestic violence. This is an issue that can unite people across America," Walker wrote.
Asked about the protests a few weeks ago, Walker said it's important to him, personally, to stand with his hand over his heart during the national anthem, but that he would not "tell people what they should or shouldn't do."
In his letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL players union director DeMaurice Smith, Walker said speaking up for one's beliefs is "a profoundly American idea," but "disrespecting our flag, and the men and women who have fought to protect and defend our country, is not American in the slightest."
State Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, roundly rejected Walker's argument.
"As much as Gov. Walker, who had little to say when Nazis marched and murdered in Charlottesville, would like to tell people of color what they can say and when, the First Amendment doesn't make an exception for unpopular governors trying to imitate Donald Trump,' Bowen said in a statement.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the first player to kneel during the national anthem, starting last season, in protest of racial inequality and police brutality in the United States. Other players have joined the protests this season, while President Donald Trump has called on the NFL and team owners to fire players who participate.
Vice President Mike Pence said he walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game last week because players protested during the anthem.
The NFL has also been criticized for years for its lax approach to acts of domestic violence committed by players.
"My request is simple: stand for the American flag and the national anthem out of respect for those who risk their lives for our freedoms, and then take a stand against domestic violence to keep American families safe. That’s something we can all agree on, and that just might help the NFL reunite with many of its devoted fans," Walker wrote.
Bowen countered that players can both protest racial inequalities and stand against domestic violence.
"Patriotic players can kneel to shed a light on systemic racial injustice and highlight Domestic Violence Month at the same time," Bowen said.