Gov. Scott Walker told the National Football League Monday that it's time for NFL players to stop protesting the national anthem, calling their decisions to kneel or sit before games "a divisive political sideshow."
It marked a change in tone from Walker, who said three weeks ago that while he stood and put his hand over his heart as a sign of respect during the anthem, he wasn't going to tell other people what they should or should not do.
"Speaking up for what you believe in is a profoundly American idea," Walker wrote in a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "But disrespecting our flag, and the men and women who have fought to protect and defend our country, is not American in the slightest."
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the anthem protests last year, saying he wasn't going to stand up to show pride in a flag that oppresses African-Americans and other people of color. Other NFL players followed Kaepernick's lead.
The controversy picked up steam late last month when President Donald Trump said NFL owners should fire players who don't stand for 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 an Alabama political rally.
The NFL initially pushed back through comments by several owners including Goodell. But Trump pushed back harder, questioning at one point why the league was getting tax breaks while the protests were happening.
Since then, Goodell has said the NFL believes it's important that everyone stand during the anthem, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he would bench players who "disrespect the flag."
Walker's letter to Goodell marked his strongest statements yet on the controversy, though he couched it in terms of a compromise, saying players would be better off using their positions to call attention to domestic abuse.
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"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," Walker said. "That’s something we can all agree on, and that just might help the NFL reunite with many of its devoted fans."
State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said it was "out of bounds" for Walker to decide which causes deserve the NFL's attention and which ones don't.
"I am disheartened and frustrated that Gov. Walker chose to use Domestic Violence Awareness Month to score his own political points," Taylor said. "Colin Kaepernick began kneeling because of what he viewed as undue violence against unarmed African-Americans at the hands of some in law enforcement, often leading to deaths. As usual, the people least equipped to speak to this issue, who never have to worry about being racially-profiled, want to tell those impacted how they should respond."
Walker's remarks come amid speculation that the Green Bay Packers might try to sign Kaepernick after starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone Sunday, possibly ending his season. The Packers have downplayed that idea.
Walker questioned in a tweet after Sunday's game whether the Packers could sign retired Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who is originally from Wisconsin.
Kaepernick is also originally from Wisconsin.
Editor's Note: This story was updated at 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, with original reporting by WPR staff.