Leaked Audio Shows Just How Crazy That Meeting Between NFL Players and Owners Actually Was

“We’ve got to be careful not to be baited by Trump or whomever else.”

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

The New York Times obtained audio of a tense three-hour meeting between NFL players and owners in October that sheds new light on how the two sides sought to deal with the fallout from ongoing national anthem protests—including President Donald Trump’s relentless criticism of the league.

During the meeting, which included 30 owners, league executives, and players at the NFL headquarters, players wondered why free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick—who kicked off the anthem protests in 2016 and has gone unsigned since he opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers last March—was being blackballed. (Kaepernick is currently in the middle of a labor grievance against the league, alleging owners colluded to keep him out.) The Times reported that his former teammate Eric Reid told the group he felt Kaepernick “was hung out to dry.”

“Everyone in here is talking about how much they support us,” Reid told a silent room. “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.”

Owners were relatively quiet on the Kaepernick issue, but many—including those who had long supported Trump—had plenty to say about what the league should do to fix its image in the midst of the president’s assault on the NFL. 

“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 New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, whose Kraft Group contributed $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee.

Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, the rare Democratic donor among NFL owners, told the group, “We’ve got to be careful not to be baited by Trump or whomever else.” Some of Lurie’s players, including Malcom Jenkins and meeting attendee Chris Long, were among the most vocal athletes during the anthem protests, and it’s unclear whether the team, which went on to win this year’s Super Bowl, will visit the White House.

Houston Texans owner and GOP megadonor Bob McNair insisted that players stop kneeling altogether. “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,” McNair said. McNair, who contributed to Trump’s campaign and inaugural committee, ended up apologizing after the meeting when ESPN reported that he also told the group that owners “can’t have the inmates running the prison.”

Perhaps one of the strangest comments, though, came from Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula, who argued that the  league needed to learn from the National Rifle Association and elevate a spokesman like Charlton Heston to combat its “media problem”—and that that spokesman needed to be black: “For us to have a face, as an African American, at least a face that could be in the media, we could fall in behind that.”

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate