In the wake of President Trump’s Friday criticism of NFL players who choose to protest during the national anthem, several NFL owners released statements responding to the president’s remarks. The statements ranged from direct to inoffensive, but all had a common theme: pushing back against the president’s suggestion to fire any player who took a knee during the anthem.
Early Sunday morning, a notable new voice spoke up — or, at least, released a statement of his own: Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 24, 2017
“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday,” Kraft said in the statement. “I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger. There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”
You can parse the precise wording of the statement — Kraft criticizes the “tone” of Trump’s comments, not the comments themselves — but the fact Kraft, a longtime friend of Trump, spoke up at all is notable in itself. The Patriots have long been the team most closely aligned with Trump, with the president claiming Tom Brady as a friend and ally. Brady himself called Trump “amazing” and displayed a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker until he was asked about it. And Bill Belichick penned a heartfelt — yes, really — letter to Trump following the acerbic election of 2016.
How Belichick and Brady will handle the growing swell of protests remains to be seen. But Kraft has put a sliver of daylight between himself and Trump, a move that historically hasn’t gone well for friends who try to distance themselves from the president.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.