NFL owners feared Trump's anger over anthem kneeling

During a confidential meeting of NFL owners last October, NFL owners expressed their fears that Donald Trump would continue to criticize the league for not cracking down on anthem protesters. Details of the meeting were published yesterday in the New York Times.

CNBC:

"Let's make sure that we keep this confidential," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at the start of the session, the Times reported.

The pregame demonstrations, sparked by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick protesting police brutality, turned off some right-leaning football fans while the league contended with a decline in ratings.

Trump targeted the protests on several occasions. In a September tweet, the president called on fans to stop going to games as long as the protests continued. He also urged the NFL to "fire or suspend" players who were protesting. During a rally in late September, Trump said the league's business would "go to hell" if it did not change its approach to the protests.

According to the Times, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a Trump friend, was chief among the owners expressing worries about Trump's attacks on the league during the October meeting.

"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," Kraft said, referring to players' kneeling during "The Star-Spangled Banner," according to the Times. "It's divisive and it's horrible."

Kraft is known as a long-time Democrat but has spoken openly about his close friendship with the Republican president. He visited the real estate magnate at Trump Tower in Manhattan days after Trump won the presidential election.

It is a sign of just how much power is wielded by the players that the owners would risk the disapproval of millions of Americans - including the president - to cater to their disrespectful protests. 

Regardless of half full stadiums, plummeting TV ratings, nervous advertisers, and disgusted fans, owners are at a loss to figure out how to handle what has become a PR nightmare and a drag on their profits. While there are other reasons for the league's doldrums, the fact is, owners can ill afford a useless, unnecessary display of a lack of patriotism when the problem might have been nipped in the bud if they had demonstrated a little backbone at the start.

Instead, they issued mealy-mouthed statements that pleased neither the players nor angry fans. In short, they blew it and realized as far back as October, 2017 that they were in big trouble.

The protests have accomplished absolutely nothing except drive away their core fans - patriotic Americans who used to see football as "America's game." 

Not any more.