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Steven Mnuchin Bashes NFL on Anthem Protests: 'Players Have the Right for Free Speech Off the Field'

U.S. Treasury secretary doubles down on Trump's attacks on pro athletes -- and Twitter is not happy

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin joined President Donald Trump's criticism of the NFL over players who have protested treatment of African Americans by kneeling during the national anthem

"Players have the right for free speech off the field," Mnuchin told CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday. "On the field, this is about respect."

"The NFL has all different types of rules," noted Mnuchin, a former investment banker and Hollywood producer. "You can't have stickers on your helmets, you have to have your uniforms tucked in."

He is the latest administration official to publicly back the president's stepped-up criticism of pro athletes over pre-game protests of the treatment of African Americans. "What the president is saying -- and I think the owners should meet and they should vote on a rule -- this is about respect for our military, this is about respect for our first responders," Mnuchin told Tapper.

"The NFL is saying that people should be able to decide what they want to do and disrespect the United States flag," Mnuchin said, calling on the league to create a new rule barring pre-game protests -- a gesture that the players' union as well as team owners have repeatedly defended.

"If people want to talk politics off the field when they're not working for the NFL, they have the absolute right to do that," he said.

The Twitterverse reacted swiftly to Mnuchin's comments, particularly his suggestions that First Amendment rights are suspended the moment players take the field.