NFL Owners, Players Meeting on Colin Kaepernick, Protests Detailed in NYT Report

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2018

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick speaks at a news conference after an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

National Football League owners expressed concern about continued attacks from United States President Donald Trump throughout an October meeting with players about kneeling during the national anthem and the free-agent status of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who led the movement.

On Wednesday, Ken Belson and Mark Leibovich of the New York Times reported details from the gathering after obtaining audio from the three-hour conversation, which NFL commissioner Roger Goodell urged those in attendance to keep "confidential."

"All Donald needs to do is to start to do this again," Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula said. "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."

Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie added: "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."

In September, Trump said during a political rally in Alabama that NFL owners should fire players who don't stand during the anthem.

"For a week, [that owner would] be the most popular person in this country. Because that's a total disrespect of our heritage. That's a total disrespect for everything we stand for," Trump said.

The protests, which Kaepernick started in August 2016 as a way to highlight social injustice and police brutality, became a polarizing issue for the NFL and a frequent target for Trump.

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told Steve Wyche of NFL Media. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

The 30-year-old Wisconsin native has remained a free agent since opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in March 2017.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft referred to the kneeling as an "elephant in the room" in the meeting and lamented how Trump used it as a political tool to fire up his base, per Belson and Leibovich.

"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," Kraft said. "It's divisive and it's horrible."

Meanwhile, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair asked the players to get their teammates to stop taking a knee so the sides could begin working together on solutions.

"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," he said.

McNair came under fire after an account of a follow-up meeting of owners only, published by Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr. of ESPN.com, quoted him as saying the league couldn't "have the inmates running the prison."

The New York Times report noted Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long supported Kaepernick and said, "We all agree in this room as players that he should be on a roster."

"If he was on a roster right now, all this negativeness and divisiveness could be turned into a positive," Long said.

Earlier this month, ESPN.com's Adam Schefter reported the Seattle Seahawks postponed a planned workout with Kaepernick because he "declined to say he would stop kneeling during the national anthem next season."

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