- A New York Times report paints a detailed picture of a contentious meeting of NFL owners and players in October amid protests during the national anthem.
- According to the report, owners expressed concern about President Donald Trump’s attacks on the league and about the reactions to the protests from fans and sponsors.
- Meanwhile, players expressed support for Colin Kaepernick, who as the San Francisco 49ers quarterback began kneeling during the anthem in 2016 to protest racial injustice and police brutality and has remained unsigned since last year.
- Though a joint statement described the meeting productive, the report indicates there was not much progress in solving the league’s problems.
The New York Times’ Ken Belson and Mark Leibovich on Wednesday detailed an October meeting of NFL owners and players following President Donald Trump’s attacks on the league over protests during the national anthem.
After Trump said in September that players should be fired for protesting, several players and others within the NFL began kneeling on the sidelines as the anthem played at games, continuing the demonstration started in 2016 by Colin Kaepernick, a San Francisco 49ers quarterback at the time, to protest racial inequality and police brutality.
As the controversy grew, the owners and players met to try to resolve the issue, resulting in a contentious meeting featuring arguments about Trump, Kaepernick’s ongoing unemployment, and the protests.
Citing an audio recording of the meeting and several people who corroborated details, Belson and Leibovich reported that it mostly consisted of owners and players talking over one another. The report characterised it as unspecific in its plan and unproductive.
The Times report said several owners expressed concern about Trump’s attacks on the league, citing fan boycotts, pressure from sponsors to stop the protests, and declining TV ratings.
Terry Pegula, the owner of the Buffalo Bills, said the league needed a plan for when Trump decided to criticise it again, according to The Times.
Jeffrey Lurie, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, called Trump’s presidency a “disaster” and told the owners and players: “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.”
The New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft called the anthem protests the “elephant in the room,” according to The Times.
While most of the owners did not voice support for the protests, Bob McNair, who owns the Houston Texans, was more direct, telling players to ask others to stop kneeling altogether, the report says.
“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.
ESPN reported in October that McNair had referred to the protests in a meeting with owners, saying the league couldn’t have the “inmates running the prison.” He later apologised but recently said he regretted doing so because the meaning of his words had been misconstrued.
According to The Times, players brought up Kaepernick, who has been a free agent since last year and filed a grievance against the NFL accusing owners of collusion to keep him unsigned.
Chris Long, a defensive lineman for the Eagles, said some of the negativity surrounding the league would be gone if Kaepernick had been signed to a roster.
Eric Reid, a former 49ers safety who protested alongside Kaepernick, also said Kaepernick was “blackballed,” but he did not receive much of a response from owners in the meeting, The Times reported.
According to The Times, there were few proposals to fix the controversies, though the players and owners planned to release a statement after the meeting describing it as productive.
Kraft reportedly said of the statement: “It would be good if you could work in the word ‘unified’ or ‘unity’ in some fashion.”
Stephen Ross, the owner of the Miami Dolphins, added: “We could say simply, today we had a reset, and the players’ issues are our issues, and we recognise them and will work together.”
While the NFL later proposed an initiative to donate to social-justice charities, organisations, and nonprofits that players support, the larger issues appeared to go unsettled.
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