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Trump: NFL owners are afraid of their players
01:57 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

The friend who once reportedly gave President Donald Trump a Super Bowl ring privately used words like “divisive” and “horrible” to label Trump’s effort to vilify players kneeling for the National Anthem as a social protest, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

As President Donald Trump declared a Twitter war on the NFL last year, team owners and players huddled in New York in a sort of damage control session and to air grievances, according to the Times, which obtained audio of the meeting.

One subject was the kneeling of players like former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who still doesn’t have a job in the NFL, with the owners trying to find a way to work with the players.

Another of the grievances was Trump, who would go on assailing the league both on Twitter and at rallies during the season, citing the issue of standing for the National Anthem.

“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, according to the Times. “It’s divisive and it’s horrible.”

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That’s a step further than the public comments Kraft made last year, when he said he was disappointed in Trump’s onslaught, but did not use words like “divisive” and “horrible.”

“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President,” was what he read from a statement in September, before going on to praise NFL players for their teamwork and work ethic.

In public, Kraft has said some very nice things about Trump as a person. While Kraft is a Democrat and donated to President Barack Obama in previous elections, he has repeatedly called Trump a friend. He did not contribute to Trump’s presidential campaign, but his Kraft Group LLC gave $1 million to the inaugural committee that put on Trump’s inaugural celebration.

In February, after the private “divisive” comments he made in October, Kraft spoke with the New York Daily News about his history with Trump, including after his wife’s death.

“When Myra died, Melania and Donald came up to the funeral in our synagogue, then they came for memorial week to visit with me,” Kraft said, according to the paper. “Then he called me once a week for the whole year, the most depressing year of my life, when I was down and out. He called me every week to see how I was doing, invited me to things, tried to lift my spirits. He was one of five or six people that were like that. I remember that.”

When the Patriots visited the White House after winning the Super Bowl in 2017, Kraft compared Trump’s unlikely victory to the team’s incredible comeback in that year’s championship game.

“This year’s championship was achieved after falling behind by 25 points — a deficit so great that in the 97-year history of the NFL — over 20,000 games — that deficit had only been overcome seven times,” Kraft said. “In that same year, a very good friend of mine for over 25 years, a man who is mentally tough and hardworking as anybody I know, launched a campaign for the presidency against 16 career politicians, facing odds almost as long as we faced in the fourth quarter. He persevered to become the 45th President of the United States.”

That visit, however, was marred by controversy when pictures appeared to show a much smaller showing for Trump than when the team visited the White House under Obama. The team explained that fewer staff members attended.

This year, the Patriots lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl, and there has been some question in recent days about whether the team will visit the White House, as is customary.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie had some of the harshest words for Trump in that closed-door meeting with players.

“But this is not where you brandish a group of people because they own assets in a sport we love, supporting what many of us perceive as, you know, one disastrous presidency. Don’t quote me,” Lurie said, according to the Times.