NFL players reportedly defended Colin Kaepernick and blasted league owners during a rare face-to-face meeting last October amid widespread public criticism over a national anthem protest movement that was started by the ex-49ers quarterback.
In a room at NFL headquarters in New York City, the players, who sat in alternating seats with the league’s 30 owners at a large table, demanded to know why Kaepernick was, they believed, being blackballed. The quarterback has not taken the field in an NFL game since the 2016 season, when he began kneeling during the Star-Spangled Banner to protest perceived police brutality against African-Americans.
“I feel like he was hung out to dry,” Eric Reid, a former teammate of Kaepernick who has also kneeled, told the room, according to the New York Times. “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.”
Retired wide receiver Anquan Boldin also said the owners needed to let “people know it’s not just the players that care about these issues, but the owners, too.”
Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long added: "we all agree in this room as players that he should be on a roster.”
In an audio recording of the meeting obtained by the New York Times, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was quoted as saying that fighting for social justice doesn’t revolve around one person.
Other owners, such as the Houston Texans’ Bob McNair, were more blunt, telling the players to end the protest.
“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,” he said, according to the newspaper.
Following the meeting, the league issued a statement that was less contentious than the words being exchanged in the New York office.
“Today owners and players had a productive meeting focused on how we can work together to promote positive social change and address inequality in our communities,” it said. “NFL executives and owners joined NFLPA executives and player leaders to review and discuss plans to utilize our platform to promote equality and effectuate positive change. We agreed that these are common issues and pledged to meet again to continue this work together.”