(CNN) Corey Stewart, the Republican nominee for US Senate in Virginia, used racist stereotypes to disparage NFL players who protest during the National Anthem in an online exchange with his supporters last year.
"A lot of these guys, I mean, they're thugs, they are beating up their girlfriends and their wives," Stewart said, "you know, they've got, you know, children all over the place that they don't pay attention to, don't father, with many different women, they are womanizers. These are not people that we should have our sons, or any of our children look up to. We need to have our children look up to real role models"
Stewart made his comments in September 2017, on a Facebook live event that was dedicated entirely to talking about protesting football players. Earlier that day he had held a news conference in Washington, DC, on the same subject.
The Virginia Republican is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who is strongly favored to keep his seat. CNN rates the Virginia Senate race as solid Democrat, the least competitive rating.
Later in the Facebook session, Stewart again called players in the NFL thugs, and compared them to servicemembers in America's military.
"The men and women who serve in the armed forces are great role models. Not these thugs, ungrateful, uh, you know, guys in the NFL," he said. "I mean, we shouldn't, you know, it's, it's so dangerous because they're just, they're just awful role models."
At another point in the event, a commenter said the NFL stands for the "National Felon League." Stewart smiled and said, "I think that's about it."
Stewart went on to say that players kneeling during the National Anthem represented an existential threat to the United States.
"In the long term, this issue that threatens the very existence of our country, if you, if people are not taught to respect those who fought for the country to respect the flag, then eventually our country will unravel," he said.
In response to a comment request from CNN, Stewart released this statement: "It's unsurprising that while Americans and Donald Trump are working to re-establish the rule of law and rebuild civil society in America, CNN once again flies off the handle and tries to make everything about race in order to keep Americans divided."
The protesting players have repeatedly explained that they are protesting racism in the criminal justice system and systematic oppression, and that they're not protesting American soldiers or the national anthem as critics claim.
President Donald Trump has regularly criticized the protesting players through much of his presidency. At a rally in 2017, he used profanity in urging team owners to fire players who take a knee during the anthem. Like Stewart, Trump also tried to undercut the players' statements that their protest is about racial injustice, saying that they don't "have a real issue."
Stewart has frequently seized upon divisive racial issues in his political career and throughout his campaign.
His opposition to removing Confederate monuments is a cornerstone of his campaign speeches, and when he ran for governor in 2017 he praised southern secession during the Civil War. The New York Times and Mediaite have both also reported on his close ties to white nationalist and neo-confederate figures in Virginia.