President Donald Trump has set off yet another public firestorm, declaring on Friday that NFL owners should be ready to fire players who use the national anthem as an opportunity for protest. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell immediately dismissed the comments as “divisive,” and with startling speed, many NFL owners and top executives have also issued statements supporting players’ rights to protest.
Some of the statements are upbeat, emphasizing the value of dialogue in a democracy. Others gently critique Trump, most commonly following Goodell in calling Trump’s comments “divisive.” A handful go quite a bit further in slamming the president — but a few team leaders still haven’t said anything at all.
- Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross implicitly slammed Trump, writing in a statement that “our country needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness.”
- Buffalo Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula called Trump’s remarks “divisive and disrespectful.”
- Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has said he is “troubled” by Trump’s comments.
- Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Kahn linked arms with players on the sidelines of this morning’s game against the Baltimore Ravens in London — even though Kahn was a large donor to Trump’s inaugural fund.
- Chicago Bears Chairman George H. McCaskey issued a statement saying in part that “through dialogue with our players and team, this divisive political situation has unified our franchise for the present and the future.”
- The owners or CEOs of the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, and Tennesse Titans have all issued statements opposing Trump’s comments, with most calling them some variation of divisive.
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- 49ers CEO Jed York, going further than most, has called Trump’s comments “callous and offensive.” Colin Kaepernick was playing for the 49ers last year when he inaugurated the anthem protests.
- Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II limited his statement to agreeing with Commissioner Goodell.
- Denver Broncos President and CEO Joe Ellis did not specifically rebut Trump’s statements, instead praising players for their “tremendous commitment to raising awareness for important societal issues.”
- Minnesota Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf have said they “believe in promoting thoughtful, inspiring conversation that unifies our communities.”
- The New Orleans Saints have released a team statement calling Trump’s comments “disappointing and inappropriate.”
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- Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam called Trump’s comments “misguided, uninformed, and divisive.”
- Seahawks President Peter McLoughlin wrote that “We fully support our players’ use of their freedom of speech and peaceful action to highlight the existing racial and other divides in our country.”
- Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, echoing many other owner statements, called Trump’s comments “divisive and counterproductive,” while specifically praising his player’s contributions to their communities after Hurricane Harvey.
- Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford has said Trump’s comments are “contrary to the founding principles of our country.”
There are some notable exceptions to the pushback against Trump’s statements.
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have seen little player involvement in the protests, and there has been no statement from management so far.
- Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is not expected to issue any statement.
- Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has also made no statement, and head coach Jason Garrett has also declined to comment on the situation.
- The New York Jets, owned by Trump ally and now Ambassador to the U.K. Woody Johnson, have declined to make any statement.
No team owners at all appear to have publicly expressed support for Trump’s statements.
In evaluating the broader significance of these responses, it’s worth remembering that sports team owners are often the sort of wealthy individuals who make major campaign contributions, and influence others to do the same. By going after football, it’s possible Trump is alienating political supporters.
It’s also worth noting that Trump once infamously tried to go toe to toe with the NFL as owner of the New Jersey Generals in the short-lived United States Football League. Many blame Trump personally for poor judgment that led to the USFL’s failure.