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Volume 25 No. 89
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New Audio Reveals NFL Owners, Players' Discussion On Protests

Kraft, a longtime friend to President Trump, offered a harsh assessment of his presidency

An audio recording of the "roughly three hour meeting" involving 30 NFL owners, players and league execs in October to address protests during the national anthem reveals how they all "confronted an unprecedented moment -- mostly by talking past one another," according to a front-page piece by Belson & Leibovich of the N.Y. TIMES. The players during the confidential meeting at NFL HQ in N.Y. "sounded aggrieved." After "discussing a proposal to finance nonprofit groups to address player concerns," the players "wanted to talk about why Colin Kaepernick ... was, they believed, being blackballed by the owners." The owners "sounded panicked about their business under attack, and wanted to focus on damage control." Meanwhile, Patriots Owner Robert Kraft "pointed to another 'elephant in the room.'" Kraft: "This kneeling. ... 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. It's divisive and it’s horrible." Eagles Owner Jeffrey Lurie, who "called Trump's presidency 'disastrous,' cautioned against players getting drawn into" his tactics. Bills co-Owner & CEO Terry Pegula "sounded anguished over the uncertainty of when Trump would take another shot at the league," while Jaguars Owner Shad Khan "countered that the worst was behind them." However, Texans Owner Bob McNair was "more direct." He "urged the players to tell their colleagues to, essentially, knock off the kneeling." McNair: "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." Belson & Leibovich noted over the course of the discussion about kneeling, the owners "kept returning to one bottom-line issue: Large numbers of fans and sponsors had become angry about the protests" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/26).

TELL ME WHAT YOU REALLY THINK: USA TODAY's Gleeson & Perez cite a source as saying that neither the players nor the owners were "aware they were being recorded, though it is not clear who did the taping." Meanwhile, former NFLer Chris Kluwe "sees significance in the owners' positions" after hearing the recording. Kluwe said, "It was clearly obvious all along that the owners are just interested in making more money. That's been clear for years, whether we are talking about concussions, prescription pills or not letting a player peacefully protest." He added on the comments of Kraft, Lurie and Eagles DE Chris Long, "Kraft and Lurie say they don't agree with Trump, but they had no answer when Chris Long asked why Kaepernick hasn't been signed. Their words don't match their actions. The owners' actions, in fact, show they are willing to support Trump by their silence" (USA TODAY, 4/26). In S.F., Ann Killion writes the "description of the meeting details absurdities," like Pegula "suggesting the league find a spokesman in the same vein as the late Charlton Heston's NRA role." It took Eric Reid, who "wore a Kaepernick shirt over his dress shirt, to bring the conversation back to the man who originated the protest." The NFL "would like you to believe" Reid and Kaepernick's "lack of employment is pure coincidence." Killion: "It's not" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 4/26).

TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OF IT: ESPN's Clinton Yates said Pegula's comment about Heston shows how "out of touch" the owners are "with America." The reason why ratings are down "is because people aren't as interested in watching guys bash their brains in on a dangerous level in America as they once were." ESPN's Bomani Jones said the owners do not sound like they are "grounded in any amount of principle whatsoever and they just seem like, 'How do we make this thing go away?' And it's going to be hard for them to find a way to make it go away with the players if it doesn't seem like they actually care about these matters." The L.A. Times' Bill Plaschke said the owners "look terrible." ESPN's Jemele Hill added, "The word I would use is spineless. That's how they came across ... and it's very interesting to me that they're more than willing to capitulate to one crowd, to one type of fan versus the other" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 4/25).