Lou Holtz Blasts NFL Players Who Kneel During Anthem for 'Hurting the Future'

The row over anthem protests in the NFL took another controversial turn over the weekend, as former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz accused kneelers of "hurting the sport."

The 81-year-old, who endorsed Donald Trump's presidency bid, admitted he did not know why the athletes were kneeling in the first place, but questioned whether the gesture would achieve anything.

"What have you accomplished by kneeling for the national anthem, except cause the fan base to go down, the TV viewing audience to go down, the revenue to go down?" he said during an appearance on Fox&Friends Saturday.

"[The players are] hurting the sport, hurting the future, you're hurting the revenue for other [players] coming up."

However, revenue in the NFL actually increased last season. Figures released by ESPN last week showed the league distributed over $8 billion in national revenue in 2017, a 4.9 percent increase from the previous year.

The improved return was attributed to the growing profitability of TV deals, and in particular the increase in value of the league's Thursday Night Football package.

The NFL has been embroiled in political controversy since 2016, when then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick opted to kneel rather than stand during the national anthem as an act of silent protest against social and racial injustice.

However, Holtz pointed out 31 officers have already died in the line of duty so far this year, adding the protests did little to solve any lingering issues.

"We have a problem, and kneeling for the national anthem doesn't help at all," he explained.

Holtz's comments came a day after Trump called for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to crack down on NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem.

In a tweet on Friday, the president noted that the executive makes $40 million a year and demanded that he "make a stand" and kick out players who continue to kneel in protest.

The NFL National Anthem Debate is alive and well again - can’t believe it! Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart? The $40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 20, 2018

Earlier this month, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) filed an official grievance over the league's new anthem policy, which stated players would have to either stand on the sideline during the national anthem or wait in the locker room.

However, in a joint statement released Thursday, the NFL and the NFLPA struck a more conciliatory tone, indicating they had discussed the issue in recent weeks and were working on a solution.

"The NFL and NFLPA, through recent discussions, have been working on a resolution to the anthem issue," the statement read.

"In order to allow this constructive dialogue to continue, we have come to a standstill agreement on the NFLPA's grievance and on the NFL's anthem policy. No new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks while these confidential discussions are ongoing."

Several San Francisco 49ers take a knee during the National Anthem before the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on December 10, 2017 in Houston, Texas. The NFL has been embroiled in a row over the national anthem for the past two years. Bob Levey/Getty Images

However, Holtz—who is the only college football coach to lead six different programs to bowl games—suggested the new policy was redundant, hinting players who refused to stand during the anthem should not play.

"I've never attended a football game that did not have the national anthem before the game," he said. "It's part of the sport."

"I'd say it's a matter of choice. You choose to kneel for the national anthem, you're choosing not to play. It's that simple. That's your choice."

The West Virginia native then added it was time for the players to shoulder some responsibility.

"Let's remember this, years ago these athletes made $50,000 a year," he said.

"Now, they make multi-millions because the NFL became very popular. It's surpassed Major League Baseball as the number one sport."