A recording of a confidential meeting between NFL owners and players from October was obtained by the New York Times, and it revealed anxiety among the owners about President Donald Trump’s criticism of the league.
Last season, Trump was openly critical of both the players who knelt in protest during the national anthem, and the league’s handling of those protests.
What did they say?
The recording provided evidence that one of the top priorities of NFL owners was to avoid drawing further public criticism from Trump.
“The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don’t feel is in the best interests of America,” said New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. “It’s divisive and it’s horrible.”
Kraft has been a personal friend of Trump’s, and donated $1 million to Trump’s presidential campaign.
“All Donald needs to do is to start to do this again,” said Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula. “We need some kind of immediate plan because of what’s going on in society. All of us now, we need to put a Band-Aid on what’s going on in the country.”
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, who has been antagonistic toward Trump before, said “All the damage Trump’s going to do is done.”
“We’ve got to be careful not to be baited by Trump or whomever else,” said Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. “We have to find a way not to be divided and not get baited.”
What was said about the national anthem protests?
Houston Texans owner Bob McNair was very direct in his stance on national anthem protests.
“You fellas need to ask your compadres, fellas, stop that other business, let’s go out and do something that really produces positive results, and we’ll help you,” McNair said.
McNair came under fire during the season for making the comment that NFL owners “can’t have the inmates running the prison,” which also happened during this October meeting.
Eric Reid, a former teammate of Colin Kaepernick, called out the owners for hanging Kaepernick out to dry while saying they support the players.
“Everyone in here is talking about how much they support us,” Reid said. “Nobody stepped up and said we support Colin’s right to do this. We all let him become Public Enemy No. 1 in this country, and he still doesn’t have a job.”
There was also discussion of anointing a black spokesman to improve the league’s image, with one owner drawing a comparison to the National Rifle Association’s use of Charlton Heston.
“For us to have a face, as an African-American, at least a face that could be in the media, we could fall behind that,” Pegula said. None of the NFL’s 32 team owners are black.
What came from that meeting?
The NFL released a statement after the meeting, calling it “productive” and pledging to continue discussing the issues together. The league eventually agreed to pledge millions of dollars toward social causes important to the players.