NFL team owners have almost universally defended players who boycotted the national anthem over the weekend amidst criticism from President Donald Trump. However, nearly all of them stopped short of addressing the issue that inspired the anthem protest in the first place: systemic racism.
Trump on Friday called on NFL owners to fire players who take a knee or otherwise sit out the anthem, a trend that then-San Fransisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick spearheaded last season as a way of addressing racial discrimination and police brutality.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL.com last year. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Trump doubled down on his remarks in a flurry of tweets over the weekend and on Monday morning, and claimed that “the issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race.”
The vast majority of owners issued statements supporting their players, and many them directly rebuked the president.
New York Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch criticized Trump’s remarks as “inappropriate, offensive and divisive.” Jed York, CEO of the 49ers, called them “callous and offensive.” And Buffalo Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegulo said the president had been “divisive and disrespectful to the entire NFL community.”
Some of the owners referenced “issues” at the heart of the protests ― including police brutality against people of color ― but stopped short of actually naming them.
York praised the players’ commitment to “social injustice.” Joe Ellis, the chairman and CEO of the Denver Broncos, applauded athletes for “raising awareness for important societal issues.” Detroit Lions owner and chairwoman Martha Firestone Ford defended athletes for wanting to “highlight social injustices of all kind” and spoke out against “negative and disrespectful comments” without mentioning Trump.
“Our organization takes great pride in equality and inclusion and find the comments by the President disappointing and inappropriate relative to our players on this issue,” the owners of the New Orleans Saints said in a statement. Police killed at least 223 black Americans in the year after Kaepernick’s protest began, according to a recent HuffPost analysis.