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Panthers owner David Tepper rebuts Trump's anthem protest criticism, calls NFL players 'patriotic'

Key Points
  • Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper defended NFL players amid criticism over the national anthem protests.
  • The head of Appaloosa Management called the players "patriotic" and said they were looking for "justice for all."
The national anthem protests are not unpatriotic, Tepper says

Billionaire hedge fund manager and new Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper lashed out at critics of NFL players, in particular President Donald Trump.

The head of Appaloosa Management said more focus should be on the good his players and others do in their communities and not on the headline-grabbing protests staged during the national anthem.

"These are some of the most patriotic people and best people. These are great young men," Tepper told CNBC's Scott Wapner in a "Halftime Report" interview from Carnegie Mellon University. "So to say that [they aren't patriotic] makes me so aggravated and angry. It's just wrong, it's dead wrong."

The protests, which started with players sitting during the anthem then moved to them kneeling, were spurred by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick then spread around the league, focusing on police brutality and shootings of unarmed black men. However, few players knelt during the first game of the 2018 season last week.

Kaepernick had filed a collusion suit against the NFL, saying owners conspired to keep him out because of his position on the anthem. One of his co-protesters in San Francisco was Eric Reid, a 49ers safety who also filed a collusion complaint. Tepper signed Reid on Thursday to a one-year contract.

Trump has criticized the protests repeatedly and some fans have boycotted the NFL. Viewership has been down significantly.

Tepper has been critical of Trump in the past.

"We're talking about it? I wasn't talking about it," Tepper said in response to Wapner saying that the protests remain a point of conversation. "There's a red-headed guy in D.C. that likes to talk about it, but I don't want to mention his name."

Reciting the pledge of allegiance, Tepper said the protests are about "justice for all."

"It's the Pledge of Allegiance, one of the most patriotic things you can do. It's about justice for all," he said. "Now listen, everybody's standing this season, because I think people understand that it's what you do in the community, it's what you do out here."

Though he didn't criticize anyone directly, he said the league generally could do a better job of publicizing the good that players do.

"You've got a lot of people that do a lot of good things. So I think maybe the league could do more, maybe they can maybe they can't, saying how much good the players do," Tepper said. "Get that message out more."