San Francisco 49ers chief executive Jed York responded quickly and decisively, condemning President Trump’s remarks in a matter of hours Saturday. New York Jets acting owner Christopher Johnson, whose brother Woody is U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, waited until after kickoff Sunday to issue a statement that avoided the president, instead expressing generic support for his players.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, usually prone to speak off the cuff about mostly anything, was one of just two NFL owners, along with Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who remained silent as a political firestorm engulfed the league. And Daniel Snyder of the Redskins waited until kickoff of Washington’s game against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday night to issue a statement that also didn’t mention Trump or his comments, instead ambiguously promising the team would “work to address divisions and bring unity, civility and respect to our greater community.”
Trump’s decision to wage a social media offensive this weekend against NFL players who protest racial injustice during the national anthem created an uncomfortable situation for NFL owners, a heavily white, wealthy group that includes several Trump friends and supporters. Before Friday, NFL owners had registered an implicit vote against such protests by leaving former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick unemployed, but Trump’s derision of any player protesting as a “son of a bitch” who should be released drew direct rebukes from the owners of 10 clubs, including some Trump friends.
Perhaps the most surprising response came from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a friend and donor to the president who arranged for Trump to receive a Super Bowl ring after New England’s latest title.
“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the president on Friday,” Kraft said in a statement issued Sunday morning. “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.”
York issued one of the stronger rebukes, terming Trump’s comments “callous and offensive” and “contradictory to what this great country stands for.”
“Our players have exercised their rights as United States citizens in order to spark conversation and action to address social injustice. We will continue to support them in their peaceful pursuit of positive change in our country and around the world,” York said.
Snyder, who donated $1 million to Trump's inaugural committee, was the last owner to weigh in Sunday evening with a statement released minutes before the Redskins owner appeared on the sideline, arms locked with his players, during the anthem.
Kraft was one of three owners who donated to the president’s campaign or inaugural committee who criticized Trump, along with the owners of the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans.
Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam called the president’s comments “misguided, uninformed and divisive.”
“Our stance in support of the liberties of peaceful, personal expression afforded to our players and all Americans will remain strong, and we will continue to encourage our players to respectfully use their earned platform to inspire positive change in our nation and throughout society,” the Haslams said.
Texans owner Bob McNair said Trump’s remarks “were divisive and counterproductive to what our country needs right now.”
“I hope the reaction from our players results in positive action for our league, our communities and our country as a whole to make a positive difference in our society,” McNair said.
Jones — whose corporation Glenstone Limited Partnership donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee — remained silent, as did Richardson.
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, the league’s only Muslim owner, stood on the sideline with his players during the anthem, then released a statement terming Trump’s remarks “divisive and contentious.”
“Our team and the National Football League reflects our nation, with diversity coming in many forms — race, faith, our views and our goals. We have a lot of work to do, and we can do it, but the comments by the President make it harder,” Khan said.
Owners or top executives from the Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and New York Giants also criticized Trump directly in comments.
The remaining clubs and owners released statements that, in a variety of ways, avoided mentioning Trump while expressing support for players.
Perhaps the blandest statement came from Johnson, whose brother Woody donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee. Christopher Johnson stood on the sideline with the Jets on Sunday and then released a statement that said, in part, “We are very proud of our players and their strong commitment to work in our community to make a positive, constructive, and unifying impact.”
Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and Detroit Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford were among those who decided to join their players on the field as well.
“Thanks primarily to our players, the NFL also has been a unifying force in our country, and impactful change has and hopefully will continue to be the result of peaceful expression, done so in order to highlight social injustices of all kind,” Ford said. “Negative and disrespectful comments suggesting otherwise are contrary to the founding principles of our country, and we do not support those comments or opinions.”
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