A new report reveals some of what was said among 30 members of the National Football League, at the secretive 2017 emergency meeting to discuss what to do about the growing player protests during the playing of the national anthem.
According to audio of the three-hour meeting reviewed by the New York Times, the players who attended to represent their fellows seemed adamant that Colin Kaepernick not only be supported for his anti-American protests, but celebrated for it. On the other hand, league owners were mostly panicked about the massive hit to their businesses as fans rose up against the protests leading to boycotts, jersey burning, and crashing TV ratings.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly started the meeting asking those in attendance to “keep this confidential,” but did not seem to have too much to say during the proceedings.
The group of players who attended the meeting to wring concessions from the league slammed the owners for “blackballing” former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Utterly ignoring the fans’ dislike of the protests, Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long scolded owners saying, “If he was on a roster right now, all this negativeness and divisiveness could be turned into a positive.”
Long went on to insist, “we all agree in this room as players that he should be on a roster.” To that claim, though, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie scoffed saying that social justice is not “about one person.”
Former Kaepernick teammate Eric Reid, who has also turned free agent and found himself unable to find a new team, reportedly wore a Kaepernick T-Shirt into the meeting and attacked the owners for “blackballing” his friend.
“I feel like he was hung out to dry,” the Times says Reid told the owners. “Everyone in here is talking about how much they support us. 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.”
For his part, former wide receiver Anquan Boldin insisted that the owners have failed the players by not stepping up to support the player protests. Boldin insisted that the owners needed to speak out, “Letting people know it’s not just the players that care about these issues, but the owners, too.”
With their comments, the player’s seemed uninterested in what fans think and felt that their anti-American protests should simply be accepted without question. Indeed, not just accepted but given full-throated support by the league and owners.
Team owners, though, stressed how the protests were destroying the fan base and hurting the business bottom line, especially where it came to President Donald Trump’s loud and persistent criticism of the anti-Americanism evinced by the league.
The paper noted that Bob Kraft was particularly outspoken:
The New England Patriots owner Robert K. Kraft pointed to another ‘elephant in the room.’
‘This kneeling,’ he said.
‘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, who is a longtime supporter of Mr. Trump’s. ‘It’s divisive, and it’s horrible.’
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie agreed that the league needed to find a way to make sure Trump stopped his broadsides. “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,” Laurie said.
Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula also seemed to want a way to avoid the mounting criticism of the league.
“All Donald needs to do is to start to do this again,” Pegula exclaimed. “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.”
“We’re getting hit with a tsunami,” Pegula added about the growing anti-NFL sentiment.
But the Houston Texans owner was direct:
The Houston Texans owner Bob McNair was more direct. He urged the players to tell their colleagues to, essentially, knock off the 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.’
A little later, Pegula spoke up again insisting that the league needed a black man as a “spokesman” for the league, a person that could both advocate for the protesters yet smooth the damaged relationship between the league and the fans.
“For us to have a face, as an African-American, at least a face that could be in the media,” Pegula said, “we could fall in behind that.”
The meeting ended with owners trying to figure out what sort of statement to put out to describe what they achieved. Kraft hoped the word “unity” could be added somewhere.
The league eventually put out this statement:
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 end, it is clear that the players not only didn’t understand that fan unrest was shaking the owners, but they showed they didn’t care if fans were upset or not. The players wanted their anti-American protests fully sanctioned no matter what fans say.
For their part, the owners were playing a trickier game by trying to assure players that their free speech rights were not being ignored but also trying to make sure the fans who pay the bills were satisfied enough to continue on with their fandom.
So far, if falling TV ratings can be believed, the owners are losing that battle.