Now, McNair has joined a chorus of NFL owners in calling out the president for deriding players who protest during the national anthem. Trump used profane language when he disparaged protesting players during a political rally on Friday in Alabama. He doubled down on his verbal attacks over the weekend, calling on NFL owners to fire or suspend players who protest, encouraging fans to boycott games and claiming that attendance and ratings are “WAY DOWN.”
How attacking North America’s most powerful sports league — led by billionaires who lean mostly toward the Republican Party — would affect Trump politically remains to be seen. But if this weekend’s parade of criticism from franchise owners are any indication, Trump’s most recent inflammatory rhetoric appears to be another self-inflicted wound.
The backlash began to take shape Saturday, when Trump’s verbal attacks drew criticism from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Several team owners took to social media to call out Trump. And before their games began Sunday, dozens of players, along with their team owners, coaches and chairmen, either took a knee or linked arms as they stood next to one another during the national anthem — a mass act of defiance.
McNair, who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, called the president’s comments “divisive and counterproductive to what our country needs right now” in a statement Sunday. Campaign finance records show that he also donated $449,000 to a fundraising committee called Trump Victory.
Another major Trump donor, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, said he is “deeply disappointed” by the president’s tone Friday, when he criticized one player without mentioning a name. The national anthem protest was popularized by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt last season to draw attention to police violence against African Americans.
“Wouldn’t you love to see these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say: ‘Get that son of a b---- off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’ ” Trump told a crowd in Huntsville, Ala. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
Kraft, a lifelong Democrat who had donated thousands of dollars to the Democratic National Committee and former president Barack Obama’s campaign, is also friends with Trump. Like McNair, he donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, according to the Daily Beast.
So did Shahid Khan, who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars and is the NFL’s only Muslim franchise owner. But on Sunday, Khan linked arms with his players before the game’s kickoff in London’s Wembley Stadium.
“I met with our team captains prior to the game to express my support for them, all NFL players and the league following the divisive and contentious remarks made by President Trump, and was honored to be arm in arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during our anthem,” Khan said in a statement.
Khan had given money to both Republicans and Democrats, including $25,000 last year to the Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, and $5,000 to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012, campaign finance records show.
Another million-dollar contributor to Trump’s inauguration, Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke, also issued a statement, although he did not address Trump directly.
“We believe in the tenets of the national anthem, which is a pillar of this country; just as freedom of speech is another pillar and a constitutional right,” Kroenke said. “We will continue to support our players’ freedom to peacefully express themselves and the meaningful efforts they make to bring out positive change in our country.”
Notably, Kroenke donated $100,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund and $33,400 to the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
Jerry Jones, also a million-dollar donor to Trump’s inauguration, would disagree with his fellow franchise owners.
“I do not think the place to express yourself in society is as we recognize the American flag and all the people that have made this great country the very opportunity for us to be there in front of the nation,” Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, told Fox Business Sunday.
Three other team owners who donated to Trump’s inauguration have yet to make a statement. One of them, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, is a Trump political appointee.
Johnson, who donated $1 million, gave nearly $280,000 to the Republican National Committee, Trump’s campaign and Trump’s fundraising committee last year, campaign finance records show. Trump nominated the Johnson & Johnson heir as ambassador to Britain. The Senate confirmed him last month.
Although Johnson has not commented on Trump’s remarks, his team’s chairman and chief executive, Christopher Johnson, linked arms with players Sunday in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium.
Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, another million-dollar donor to Trump’s inauguration, also has remained silent. He initially supported Jeb Bush, donating $100,000 for Right to Rise USA, a Bush super PAC, in 2015, campaign finance records show.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Ed Glazer, who donated $250,000, has yet to comment, although the team’s co-chairman, Joel Glazer, did. Records show that last year, Glazer donated close to $89,000 to Trump’s fundraising committee, to his campaign, and to the Republican National Committee, while also giving $5,400 to Hillary for America.