One NFL team has been more closely aligned with President Trump than the others and, on Sunday morning, the owner of that team issued a statement on Trump’s call for NFL owners to punish players who protest by refusing to stand for the national anthem.

“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday,” New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. “I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger. There is no greater unifier in this country than sports and, unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”

Kraft, who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural and arranged for Trump to receive a Super Bowl LI ring, stopped short of condemning the president, who called for fans to stay away from games until players are either fired or suspended by owners. Patriots players have not protested during the anthem and two of the team’s most prominent members, Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, also have had a relationship with the president.

Trump read a supportive letter from Belichick during a campaign rally and Brady, while calling Trump a good friend and a golfing buddy, has stopped short of saying he voted for the president. His wife, supermodel Gisele Bündchen, was more definitive, saying, “NO!” when asked by an Instagram user if she supported Trump.

Belichick and Kraft were among Patriots players who celebrated the team’s Super Bowl victory with a visit to the White House. Brady cited family plans for staying away.

For Kraft, the relationship is based on friendship. “It’s pretty simple,” Kraft’s son, Josh, told the Boston Globe last spring. “They’ve been friends for years. The worst time in my dad’s life, this guy was there for him.”

That was when Kraft’s wife, Myra, died in 2011 and Trump visited him in Boston, following up with calls for a year afterward.

“Friendship trumps politics, for lack of a better term,” Josh Kraft said. “You might not agree with what your friend believes, but why let that ruin a friendship?”

Players from several NFL teams protested President Trump’s recent comments before and during the national anthem on game day Sunday. (Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

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