The New York Times has obtained an audio recording of a three-hour October meeting between NFL owners, players, and executives in which the topic of player protests during the national anthem was addressed. The players present reportedly wanted answers as to Colin Kaepernick’s status and the question about his potential blackballing.
Owners quoted by the Times seem more focused on controlling the bottom line than specifics. And while their words aren’t as juicy — outside of Bob McNair — as one might expect considering the purported confidentiality of the summit, one thing that stands out is how much of the conversation centered around President Donald Trump’s engagement on the issue against the protests themselves.
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.”
OK, so that’s actually quite juicy.
The Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula sounded anguished over the uncertainty of when Trump would take another shot at the league. “All Donald needs to do is to start to do this again,” 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.”
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie reportedly spoke about not being baited by the president which could further divide the room.
Another through-line is the general unproductive nature over the conversation as far as next steps. There was little in the way of commitment on the Kaepernick employment topic and efforts by the owners to establish effective public relations was met with some disconnect.
Pegula offered that he thought the league was battling a perception and “media problem.” He said it would be great for the league to find a compelling spokesman — preferably a player — to promote all of the good things they were doing together. He suggested that the league could learn from the gun lobby in this regard.
“For years we’ve watched the National Rifle Association use Charlton Heston as a figurehead,” Pegula said. “We need a spokesman.”
Anquan Boldin, a former N.F.L. wide receiver who was at the meeting, said that owners needed to be spokesmen, too. “Letting people know it’s not just the players that care about these issues, but the owners, too,” Boldin said.
Pegula didn’t address Boldin’s point except to add that it would be important for the spokesman to be black. (None of the N.F.L.’s 32 owners are black.)
This didn’t stop a brainstorming session on the language to be used to convey the usefulness of the meeting, which would read:
“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.”