NFL players reportedly criticized team owners in a secret meeting last year for blackballing quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The New York Times reported on the comments Wednesday based on an audio tape it obtained of the meeting, which took place in October at NFL headquarters in New York​. 

From the nut graf: "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."


According to The Times, the meeting saw players criticize the owners for not standing up for Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who started the controversial protests over social injustice and police brutality against African-Americans in August of 2016 by kneeling during the national anthem:

  • Let Kaepernick play: “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. Long said he did not wish to “lecture any team” on what quarterbacks to sign, but “we all agree in this room as players that he should be on a roster.”

  • Secret talks are cheap: “I feel like he was hung out to dry,” said Eric Reid, Kaepernick’s former teammate and the first player to kneel alongside him. “Everyone in here is talking about how much they support us. 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.”

  • Go public: Anquan Boldin, a former NFL wide receiver, said that owners needed to speak out along with the players. “Letting people know it’s not just the players that care about these issues, but the owners, too."

For their part, the owners reportedly pushed the players to stop their protests during the national anthem for fear that President Donald Trump’s resulting attacks on the league were hurting business:

  • Hush-hush: “Let’s make sure that we keep this confidential,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said to begin the session.

  • The elephant in the room: “This kneeling,” said New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a longtime Trump supporter. “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. It’s divisive and it’s horrible.”

  • Knock it off: “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,” said Houston Texans owner, Bob McNair.​


Kaepernick first sat out of the national anthem in August of 2016 after a flurry of news reports about police shootings of African-Americans. In September, he switched to taking a knee after meeting with former US Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, who told him that kneeling would be more respectful for those serving in the military.

The protests slowly began to pick up momentum, with other players both in and out of the NFL joining in kneeling for the national anthem. As the protests grew in popularity, so did criticism of them, which ultimately led to Kaepernick opting out of his 49ers contract in March of 2017.

The most powerful critic of the national anthem protests was Trump.