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BET founder Robert Johnson sees uproar over NFL protests as a symptom of 'toxic' cultural issues

  • "I would be locking arms with the players to show that the players are united in what they are trying to do," Robert Johnson tells CNBC.
  • President Trump's criticism of players who kneel during the national anthem sparked angry protests around the NFL.
  • Johnson says a player protesting is not going to destroy a company or a team.

Robert Johnson, BET founder and former owner of the NBA's Charlotte Hornets, told CNBC on Monday he supports an athlete's right to protest.

"I would be locking arms with the players to show that the players are united in what they are trying to do," Johnson said on "Squawk Box."

President Donald Trump's criticism of players who kneel during the national anthem sparked angry protests around the NFL on Sunday.

"From the standpoint of an owner of a team or a leader of a country, you've got to recognize that you have a lot of stakeholders. And you try to find that bond that brings them together," said Johnson, a Democrat and founder and chairman of The RLJ Cos.

When asked to elaborate, he said a player protesting is not going to destroy a company or a team.

Trump called for fans to demonstrate their own form of protest — by boycotting NFL games unless the league fires players who kneel during the national anthem.

Johnson said the country has become "so toxic" on cultural issues, and protests have become "so complex."

"If we keep looking at everything that symbolizes unity in America, that's something that we can all rally behind or believe in. If we keep tearing that down, piece by piece because you think the [Confederate] statue should stay up, I think it should come down, you think you should kneel, I think you should stand up and support the flag. The country begins to lose their fabric that's tied us together," he said.

"I don't know how we move a political country forward when everything is so divisive."

Johnson said the best statement of all about the protests was by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees: "About how he can see the right of people to protest but at the same time the flag has real, true meaning to an American," Johnson said.

Johnson has said he has known Trump for years. Last year, Johnson met with the then president-elect and said he believes the president wants to work with African-Americans and all Americans to boost the economy.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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