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Trump: NFL must change or business is 'going to hell'

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters as he departed the White House in Washington, bound for an event in Indiana, Sept. 27, 2017. The Trump administration on Wednesday proposed the most sweeping changes to the federal tax code in decades; Trump is scheduled to discuss the proposal at a Farm Bureau building in Indianapolis. (Doug Mills/Copyright 2017 The New York Times)

President Donald Trump continues to double down about NFL players protesting during the national anthem, saying the league's business is "going to hell" if it doesn't change.

Trump was asked by a reporter while he was departing the White House via Marine One on Wednesday about the inconsistency between the First Amendment rights of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists to protest in Charlottesville, Va., and the rights of NFL players to protest.

The president ignored the question and went on the offensive against the NFL again while leaving the White House for a trip to Indiana to talk about his tax plan.

"I think the NFL is in a box," Trump told reporters. "I think they're in a really bad box. You look at what's happening with their ratings, you look at what's going on -- I mean, frankly, the only thing that's doing well in the NFL is the pregame, because everybody wants to see what's going on.

"You cannot have people disrespecting our national anthem, our flag, our country, and that's what they're doing. And in my opinion, the NFL has to change. Or you know what's going to happen? Their business is going to hell."

The Nielsen company said Tuesday that viewership for national telecasts of NFL games through three weeks was down 11 percent this season compared to 2016. The games averaged 17.63 million viewers for the first three weeks of last season and dipped to 15.65 million this year, according to Nielsen figures.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump praised Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who kneeled with his team before the national anthem was played on Monday night.

Jones, who donated $1 million to Trump's campaign, came up with the idea for the team's organized, coordinated and unified response to Trump's attacks on NFL players for protesting racial inequality during the national anthem.

Jones and his players linked arms and took a knee together before the national anthem. They then stood for the anthem still linked arm in arm before the Cowboys' 28-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

"Spoke to Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys yesterday," Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. "Jerry is a winner who knows how to get things done. Players will stand for Country!"

Trump first lashed out against the NFL while speaking at a political rally in Huntsville, Ala., on Friday night and continued the attacks through the weekend, alienating players, coaches and owners throughout the NFL.

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He's fired! He's fired!'" Trump said to loud applause at the campaign event in Alabama.

The president's comments led to some form of protest at each NFL game in Week 3 this past weekend.

Protests during the national anthem came into the limelight when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick staged a silent protest during the 2016 preseason when he first sat. He later took a knee during the anthem throughout last season as a way of protesting racial inequality and police brutality.