The details of the confidential meeting show pro-Trump owners vilifying the president for his involvement in the league’s protests.
In response to the NFL’s anthem protest controversy, the league set an urgent and unprecedented meeting of players and owners in October which sought to abate the damage done by protests and boycotts. The issue at hand: Donald Trump’s tweets documenting his disgust with protesting players refusing to stand for the national anthem.
Despite an opening remark from Commissioner Roger Goodell in which he says, “Let’s make sure that we keep this confidential,” The New York Times recently obtained and authenticated three hours of audio covering the entire meeting. The recording documents a meeting in which exasperated players shared their frustrations about serving their owners’ business agendas. Further, owners with a history of supporting Donald Trump spoke candidly about the president’s desire to serve his own ends by unproductively weighing in and dividing the country.
As expected, Colin Kaepernick, who many feel has been blackballed from the league for early anthem protests, was a topic of conversation as well. Said Chris Long, a Philadelphia offensive lineman, “If he was on a roster right now, all this negativeness and divisiveness could be turned into a positive.”
Eric Reid, a former teammate of Kaepernick, attended the meeting wearing a pro-Kaepernick T-shirt over a dress shirt and tie, insisted to the owners in attendance that Kaepernick was being blackballed for his acts. “I feel like he was hung out to dry,” Reid stated. “Everyone in here is talking about how much they support us.” The room fell quiet. “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.”
Amid boycotts by sponsors and fans, the owners, too, were quick to speak up about the problem the league faced, as well as potential solutions.
Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and a long-time Trump supporter, spoke bluntly about his objections to Trump’s involvement in the social issue the league faced. “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 Kraft “It’s divisive and it’s horrible.”
Jeffrey Lurie, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and outspoken Trump critic, offered, “We’ve got to be careful not to be baited by Trump or whomever else. We have to find a way to not be divided and not get baited.”
Houston Texans owner Bob McNair put the onus of cooperation on the players, rather than on external factors. Pleading for a stop to the controversial kneeling, “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.”
While a clear rift between the players and owners continued throughout the remainder of the season, as the session ended, a joint statement between the players and league was released.
Today owners and players had a productive meeting focused on how we can work together to promote positive social change and address inequality in our communities. NFL executives and owners joined NFLPA executives and player leaders to review and discuss plans to utilize our platform to promote equality and effectuate positive change. We agreed that these are common issues and pledged to meet again to continue this work together.
In the wake of the audio recording, it’s unclear if the candor expressed in the meeting will hurt or help the NFL. The recording does reveal that even among the owners, President Donald Trump’s words have far reaching power to divide.