N.F.L. owners, players and league executives, about 30 in all, convened urgently at the league’s headquarters on Park Avenue in October, nearly a month after President Trump began deriding the league and its players over protests during the national anthem.
It was an extraordinary summit; rarely do owners and players meet in this manner. But the president’s remarks about players who were kneeling during the anthem had catalyzed a level of public hostility that the N.F.L. had never experienced. In the spirit of partnership at the meeting, the owners decided that they and the players should sit in alternating seats around the large table that featured an N.F.L. logo in the middle.
“Let’s make sure that we keep this confidential,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said to begin the session.
The New York Times has obtained an audio recording of the roughly three-hour meeting, and several people in the room corroborated details of the gathering. The unvarnished conversation reveals how the leaders of the most dominant sports league in the country and several of its most outspoken players confronted an unprecedented moment — mostly by talking past one another.
- “If he was on a roster right now, all this negativeness and divisiveness could be turned into a positive,” Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long said at the 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,” said Kraft, who is a longtime supporter of Mr. Trump’s. “It’s divisive and it’s horrible.”
- “We’ve got to be careful not to be baited by Trump or whomever else,” Lurie said. “We have to find a way to not be divided and not get baited.”
- “All Donald needs to do is to start to do this again,” Pegula said. “We need some kind of immediate plan because of what’s going on in society. All of us now, we need to put a Band-Aid on what’s going on in the country.” [Bills Owner]
- The Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan countered that the worst was behind them. “All the damage Trump’s going to do is done,” he said.
- The Houston Texans owner Bob McNair was more direct. He urged the players to tell their colleagues to, essentially, knock off the kneeling. “You fellas need to ask your compadres, fellas, stop that other business, let’s go out and do something that really produces positive results, and we’ll help you.”
- “I feel like he was hung out to dry,” Reid said of Kaepernick. “Everyone in here is talking about how much they support us.” The room fell quiet. “Nobody stepped up and said we support Colin’s right to do this. We all let him become Public Enemy No. 1 in this country, and he still doesn’t have a job.”
- Anquan Boldin, a former N.F.L. wide receiver who was at the meeting, said that owners needed to be spokesmen, too. “Letting people know it’s not just the players that care about these issues, but the owners, too,” Boldin said.