The NFL may have presented a unified front on the football field, when responding to President Trump and the protests that have swept across the league. However, behind closed doors, the league’s owners clashed and worried over how to react.
Like the country, the owners were divided over how to treat the protests. Some wanted to crack down and end them while others wanted to give players as much leeway as possible to indulge their statements, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Citing three sources familiar with the meetings, the Journal also tells of a “tense” meeting during Week 3, when some owners expressed concern over taking on the president and said a belligerent reaction to Trump was bad for business.
According to the Journal’s sources, after Commissioner Roger Goodell fired back at President Trump’s passionate Alabama speech, where the president called the protesting players “SOB’s” and criticized NFL officiating. Several NFL owners expressed concern about engaging Trump.
According to the Journal, “However, multiple owners at the meeting said they needed to avoid the likely repercussions of a lingering feud with the president over an issue that resonated with many fans. While the league didn’t issue a directive and there were no reports of owners forbidding players from protesting, several clubs took steps to reduce tensions in the days that followed the meeting. Detroit Lions players said team owner Martha Ford asked them not to kneel for the anthem, saying she would support causes related to racial injustice in return.”
In the case of Martha Ford and the Lions, her requests went unheeded. Detroit players protested in both Week 3 and Week 4.
The reports of this closed-door argument, stand in stark contrast to the claim that the NFL was unified over the protests, especially as evidenced in the Week 3 TV add simply titled, “Unity.”
However, that ad comes after more than a year of contentious protests by millionaire players who have knelt or sat during the playing of the national anthem. Started in 2016 by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the protests spread across the NFL and also metastasized into other sports.
Far from from having any “unifying” effect, the protests have divided the country causing millions of fans to give up watching the NFL.
With all the controversy swirling, the NFL’s Week 4 protests were fewer than those of Week 3 but by no means gone from the scene.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.