Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders offered dueling messages during Super Bowl LII on protesting racial injustice.
Trump issued a Super Bowl message on Sunday night that, in keeping with the White House's opposition to NFL protests against police brutality and racial injustice, included a line about standing for the national anthem.
"Though many of our nation's service members are unable to be home with family and friends to enjoy this evening's American tradition, they are always in our thoughts and prayers," Trump's statement read. "We owe these heroes the greatest respect for defending our liberty and our American way of life. Their sacrifice is stitched into each star and every stripe of our Star-Spangled Banner. We hold them in our hearts and thank them for our freedom as we proudly stand for the national anthem."
Trump, a longtime sports fan and backer of the returning champion New England Patriots, who are facing off against the Philadelphia Eagles in Minneapolis, has railed against players taking a knee during the national anthem, which was started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Trump has called on the NFL to pull players who participate in the protest.
Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Cory Booker and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, invoked Rosa Parks' birthday, February 4, to send an implicit message Sunday night supporting protests against racism.
"Rosa Parks proved that, sometimes, the best way to stand up is to sit down," Pelosi, a California Democrat, tweeted, invoking the civil rights icon who famously refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955.
The New Jersey senator also addressed the protests directly in a Facebook post.
"Ahead of the #Superbowl tonight, let's not forget that protest is patriotic -- whether you take a knee, raise a fist, sit down or stand up. We love America," Booker wrote. "We may all have different approaches in the struggle towards creating a more equal and just nation, we may not always agree (like the wide unpopularity of Muhammad Ali's protests) — but everyone who truly loves America knows we are all in this journey together."
The House Republicans' official Twitter account also shared a message hailing Parks' "unwavering courage" in the fight for civil rights, although it didn't mention the national anthem protests.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended Trump's position in a pre-Super Bowl interview on Sunday.
"In my house and in many other households across this country we say, 'You take a knee for the Lord and you stand for the flag,'" she told "Fox and Friends."
At Sunday's game, the players all stood during the anthem.
Trump said he asked Vice President Mike Pence to walk out of a football game last year because of the protest, which the pair have said disrespects the American flag and US service members.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady broke with Trump on the issue last fall, calling Trump's comments "just divisive."
If there are protesting players at the Super Bowl, NBC is set to show them, and the NFL told CNN Money ahead of the game that it does not plan to keep players in their locker rooms and that there is no rule preventing players from protesting.
A White House official told CNN that Trump has opted out of a pre-Super Bowl interview with NBC, which is televising the game.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts declared game day "Stand for the Flag Super Bowl Sunday."
"Sunday is football's biggest game. Here in Nebraska, I've officially proclaimed the day as Stand for the Flag #SuperBowl Sunday. RT to spread the word! #SBLII" Ricketts tweeted Sunday evening.
McMaster tweeted a similar message on Tuesday.
"I ask that all South Carolinians show the world our state's resolute commitment to supporting our troops by standing for the national anthem wherever you watch the Super Bowl with your loved ones this Sunday," he wrote, ending the tweet with the hashtag #IStand, a direct contrast to #TakeAKnee, which is used by supporters of Colin Kaeperinck.
The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback started the trend of taking a knee during the National Anthem in September 2016 to protest racism.