NEW YORK (Reuters) - A majority of Americans disagree with President Donald Trump's assertion that football players should be fired for kneeling during the national anthem, even though most say they would personally stand during the song, according to an exclusive Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Tuesday.
The Sept. 25-26 poll found that 57 percent of adults do not think the National Football League should fire players who kneel. This included 61 percent of NFL fans who watch at least a few games per season.
The results were split along party lines, however, as 82 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of Republicans disagreed with the president's comments about firing football players.
For poll results, see: tmsnrt.rs/2y6pxBk
Trump waded into the issue last week at a political rally when he bemoaned what he saw as a decline in the sport. Among other things, Trump criticized players who want to draw attention to what they believe is social and racial injustice by refusing to stand during the anthem.
"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'," Trump said at the rally. "He's fired!"
Trump, who once owned a pro football team in a now-defunct rival league, added that the NFL is "ruining the game" with a fixation on player safety.
The president's comments sparked a swift and widespread rebuke from the NFL last weekend as many players, coaches and owners kneeled, locked arms or stayed off the field during pregame ceremonies.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll explored the complicated feelings that many Americans have about how to express their nationality.
Eighty-five percent of adults said, for example, that they almost always "stand in silence" when the national anthem is played at an event they are attending. Seventy-four percent said they almost always put their hand over their heart.
Yet, when it comes to professional athletes, there is less agreement about what is appropriate. While 58 percent of adults said that "professional athletes should be required to stand during the national anthem at sporting events," there is rising support for those athletes who do not.
In the latest poll, 40 percent of Americans said that they support the stance that some pro football players have made to not stand during the anthem. That is up from 28 percent who answered the same way in a similar Reuters/Ipsos poll last year.
In addition, 53 percent of Americans do not think it is appropriate for the president to comment on "how the NFL and its players conduct themselves during the national anthem."
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and a small number of other NFL players started kneeling during the national anthem last year to protest a series of high-profile police shootings that involved African-Americans.
The issue had largely faded at the start of the 2017 season, in part because Kaepernick was no longer playing for an NFL team. Trump's comments, which were made in front of a conservative-leaning crowd in Alabama, reinvigorated the debate and made pregame NFL ceremonies must-see TV.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,622 people, including 628 Democrats, 583 Republicans and 919 people who watched a football game at least a few times during the season.
The poll has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 5 percentage points.
(Reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)