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Pres. Trump’s Super Bowl message: Service members make Super Bowl Sunday possible

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US President Donald Trump disembarks from Air Force One upon arrival at Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, Florida, February 2, 2018, as they travel to Mar a Lago for the weekend. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump expressed appreciation for U.S. service members on Super Bowl Sunday, saying their bravery and sacrifice help make occasions like the year’s most-watched football game possible and renewing his criticism of NFL players who kneel during 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,” President Trump said in a statement about the game shortly before the matchup between the defending New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles got underway.

“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,” President Trump said. “We hold them in our hearts and thank them for our freedom as we proudly stand for the National Anthem.”

The president has been critical of NFL players who exercise their right to freedom of expression by kneeling during the national anthem to protest unfair police treatment of minorities. President Trump says the practice is disrespectful to service members, and he has criticized the league and team owners for allowing the kneeling to continue.

President Trump was hosting a Super Bowl watch party at his private golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida, and was scheduled to arrive just before kickoff of the game. The Florida Atlantic University Marching Band was scheduled to play as president and first lady arrive for the festivities.

The president has not said which team he is rooting for. He punted when he was asked his preference earlier this week at the White House. President Trump said, “I better not get involved.”

However, President Trump is good friends with Patriots owner Bob Kraft. President Trump has said Kraft telephoned him in December, as he prepared to sign a package of tax cuts into law, to tell him that the tax bill is “incredible.”

The president spent the weekend at his estate in nearby Palm Beach, Florida.

He was returning to the White House late Sunday.