In the wake of the NFL owners’ decision to cook up a national anthem policy even as the issue appeared to be dying down, it was easy to see how much the fear of Donald Trump had influenced their thinking. Several owners and executives even alluded to this after the policy was approved. But now there’s sworn testimony to suggest Trump told at least one owner he was going to keep humping the issue because it benefits him.
Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal got a look at the some of the depositions taken in relation to Colin Kaepernick’s grievance case against the NFL. According to the testimony of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Trump let the NFL know he had it by the balls. “This is a very winning, strong issue for me,” Jones testified that Trump told him in a phone call. “Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.” (Remember this the next time some downmarket Tucker Carlson whines about government coercion against a private business.)
It wasn’t just Jones, either. More WSJ:
“I was totally supportive of [the players] until Trump made his statement,” Stephen Ross, the Miami Dolphins’ owner and creator of programs advocating for social justice, said in his deposition. Noting that owners’ conversations with Mr. Trump were relayed during a league meeting, he said: “I thought he changed the dialogue.”
Jones, Ross, and Texans owner Bob McNair all testified that the anthem protests had hurt their bottom lines. What’s less clear is how much of that can be attributed to fans avoiding the NFL because of the protests, versus those staying away out of solidarity to Kaepernick. Never mind, too, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk pointed out, that Falcons owner Arthur Blank is on record justifying Matt Ryan’s new contract because of increases in team and league revenues. The depositions further indicate that McNair and Patriots owner Robert Kraft had giant reservations about Trump using the protests as a wedge issue. Ultimately, they caved to him anyway.
Kaepernick had begun protesting during the anthem in August 2016. Only a few players participated after that, at least until September of last year, when Trump first leveraged the outrage for himself, which led to a mass protest of players throughout the league. By the end of last season, however, fewer than 10 players were still protesting; the issue seemed likely to wither if not die down completely this year, at least until the owners re-lit the fuse with last week’s policy. The irony here is that Trump is almost certain to continue to bray against the league and the protests anyway.