Several donors who gave Trump $1 million own NFL football teams. They're defending their players.

By Alana Abramson
September 25, 2017

President Donald Trump’s criticism of football players kneeling during national anthem as “sons of bitches” during a rally in Alabama Friday immediately drew condemnation from both sides of the aisle — including some of his major donors, who happen to own teams where the players have done just that.

Fortune’s analysis of public documents found that, of the 28 teams that played Sunday in the heat of the controversy, at least 5 are owned by people who have donated to either Trump’s campaign or inauguration committee, with some providing checks as large as $1 million. But they’re still standing up for their players.

Donors who have defended their players include Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots; Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars; Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins; Robert McNair, owner of the Houston Texans; and Jimmy and Dee Haslam, who own the Cleveland Browns. All have either criticized Trump’s remarks about their players in public statements or stood on the field with their team during the anthem.

The Tampa Buccaneers and the New York Jets, both of whom also played on Sunday, have connections to Trump donors as well. The New York Jets were previously owned by Woody Johnson, who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee and forfeited his position when he became Trump’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Woody’s brother Christopher stood with the team linking arms on Sunday.

Kraft, who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and gave the President a Super Bowl ring, said in a statement Sunday that he was “deeply disappointed” in Trump’s comments. “I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful,” he said.

Several members of the Patriots heeded his advice, with more than a dozen kneeling or locking arms during the national anthem before their game against the Houston Texans.

Like Kraft, the Texans’ owner, Bob McNair, donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, according to FEC records. McNair also gave $2 million in October 2016 to the Great America PAC, a super PAC supporting Trump’s presidential campaign, and nearly $500,000 to funds directly supporting the campaign. McNair did not stay quiet after Trump’s comments, calling them “divisive and counterproductive to what our country needs right now.”

Although Kraft and McNair publicly denounced Trump’s comments, they did not physically stand with their teams Sunday. (McNair’s son Cal — who does not have a public record of donating to the President or his campaign — stood with the team linking arms during the national anthem). But Khan and Snyder, both of whom gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration were both seen linking arms with their team members on Sunday during the national anthem.

Khan said Sunday that he had met with the Jaguar’s captains to show his support for the team in the wake of Trump’s comments, which he called “divisive and contentious.” “We have a lot of work to do and we can do it, but the comments by the President make it harder,” Khan said in a statement. “That’s why it was important for us, and personally for me, to show the world that even if we may differ at times, we can and should be united in the effort to become better as people and a nation.”

Although Snyder linked arms with his team, the Washington Post noted that the Redskins were among the last team to issue a statement about the President’s comments, and the statement did not come from Snyder himself.

The Haslams, who own the Cleveland Browns, donated to Trump’s campaign and inaugural committee, but on a smaller scale than Kraft, Khan and McNair. The couple collectively donated $200,000 to Trump’s inauguration committee, and Jimmy Haslam donated the maximum amount — 5,400 — to Trump’s campaign. But they also condemned the President’s comments. “We must not let misguided, uninformed, and divisive comments from the President or anyone else deter us from our efforts to unify,” they said in a statement Sunday morning. “Our stance in support of the liberties of peaceful, personal expression afforded to all Americans will remains 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.”

Images of the Browns during the national anthem showed at least 20 players kneeling.

No representatives for these owners immediately responded to request for comment about whether Trump’s comments would affect future donations. When Trump was asked about Kraft’s comments, he did not give any indication they would adversely effect their relationship.

“I want him to do what he wants to do, but we have a great country, we have great people representing our country, especially our soldiers, our first responders, and they should be treated with respect,” he told reporters Sunday. “And when you get on your knee and you don’t respect the American flag or the anthem, that’s not being treated with respect.”

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