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Rauner blasts NFL ‘insult’ to nation, touts freedom ‘to be insulting’

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at a news conference in July as state Senate Republic Leader Bill Brady, left, listens. File Photo. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times)

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday said he strongly disagrees with NFL players who have chosen to kneel during the national anthem calling it an “insult … to our nation as a whole” — but then he championed their freedom to do so.

Taking questions from reporters at an unrelated event Monday afternoon, Rauner said the players who have dropped to one knee are disrespecting the country and veterans.

“I strongly disagree with those who have chosen to disrespect, to — frankly — insult our flag, our national anthem, our nation as a whole, our values and to insult our veterans,” Rauner said. “That said, one of the reasons — the primary reason — we’re the greatest nation on earth … is freedom. And part of that is freedom of speech and freedom of expression. People in America are free to be insulting.”

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Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the first professional athlete to drop to one knee during the national anthem. Kaepernick’s protest was made in an effort to highlight mistreatment of African Americans by police. He has remained an unsigned free agent since the end of last season.

In recent days, President Donald Trump has escalated his rhetoric against players who choose to kneel, referring to them as a “son of a bitch” during a campaign rally for an Alabama Senate candidate. After Trump’s comments, dozens of players too part in various forms of protest before NFL games on Sunday.