These NFL owners’ statements about free speech are now very awkward

Before the NFL owners all decided to ban protests, they claimed they supported their players' free speech.

Donald Trump hosted the New England Patriots at the White House in April 2017.
Donald Trump hosted the New England Patriots at the White House in April 2017. CREDIT: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Last week, the National Football League’s team owners unanimously decided to impose on a ban on the #TakeAKnee national anthem protests by its players — a move long-sought by the league’s unofficial commissioner, Donald Trump. But many of these owners still have not deleted the statements they posted, just months ago, defending their players’ rights to peaceful protest — back when they opposed Trump’s attacks on their league and players.

Last year, dozens of players chose to kneel or sit respectfully during “The Star -Spangled Banner” to raise awareness of racism and police brutality — a movement created the previous season by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In September, Trump objected to the players “disrespecting our Flag & Country [sic]” and urged public boycotts of NFL games, as well as suspensions and even firings for the participating players.

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Back then, most teams responded with official statements defending the players’ right to protests and denouncing Trump’s attacks. These statements are still online, despite the fact that the owners’ have now moved to silence their players.

The following statements are still online as of Tuesday morning:

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York

“Our players have exercised their rights as United States citizens in order to spark conversation and action to address social injustice. We will continue to support them in their peaceful pursuit of positive change in our country and around the world.”

Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam

“Our stance in support of the liberties of peaceful, personal expression afforded to our players and all Americans will remain strong, and we will continue to encourage our players to respectfully use their earned platform to inspire positive change in our nation and throughout society.”

Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen (via team president Peter McLoughlin)

“We fully support our players’ use of their freedom of speech and peaceful action to highlight the existing racial and other divides in our country.”

Buffalo Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula

“Our players have the freedom to express themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner and we all agreed that our sole message is to provide and promote an environment that is focused on love and equality.”

Minnesota Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf and the Wilf family

“We are proud of our players, coaches and staff for the important role they play in our community, and we fully support their constitutional right to respectfully and peacefully express their beliefs.”

Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy

“We believe it is important to support any of our players who choose to peacefully express themselves with the hope of change for good. As Americans, we are fortunate to be able to speak openly and freely.”

Chicago Bears chairman George H. McCaskey

“What makes this the greatest country in the world are the liberties it was founded upon and the freedom to express oneself in a respectful and peaceful manner.”

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank

“Creating division or demonizing viewpoints that are different from our own accomplishes nothing positive and undermines our collective ability to achieve the ideals of our democracy. The NFL has historically been a strong catalyst for positive change and I’m proud of the way our players, coaches and staff use that platform to give back to our community and strive to be good citizens making a positive impact on this and future generations.”

Denver Broncos CEO Joe Ellis

“Our players have shown a tremendous commitment to raising awareness for important society issues by using their platform in a positive way… As an organization, we could not be more proud, appreciative and grateful for our players. We’ll continue to support them and work together to advocate for values of respect, diversity and inclusion.”

Detroit Lions owner and chairman Martha Firestone Ford

“Thanks primarily to our players, the NFL also has been a unifying force in our country and impactful change has and hopefully will continue to be the result of peaceful expression, done so in order to highlight social injustices of all kind. Negative and disrespectful comments suggesting otherwise are contrary to the founding principles of our country, and we do not support those comments or opinions.”

Los Angeles Rams owner and chairman E. Stanley Kroenke

“We believe in the tenets of the national anthem, which is a pillar of this country; just as freedom of speech is another pillar and a constitutional right. We will continue to support our players’ freedom to peacefully express themselves and the meaningful efforts they make to bring about positive change in our country.”

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross

“I know our players who kneeled for the anthem and these are smart young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone. They wanted to start a conversation and are making a difference in our community, including working with law enforcement to bring people together. We all can benefit from learning, listening and respecting each other.”

New England Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft 

“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 they feel is most impactful.”

Philadelphia Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie

“Every day I see the genuine dedication and hard work of our players. I support them as they take their courage, character and commitment into our communities to make them better or to call attention to injustice.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-chairman Joel Glazer

“As we have stated previously, the Buccaneers recognize every individual’s constitutional right to freedom of speech, which is crucial to the American way of life that we cherish.”

The New Orleans Saints also tweeted out a statement in September noting that their then-owner, the late Tom Benson, believed the players who represent the Saints “should be allowed to share or express their feelings.” Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said at that time, “We recognize our players’ influence. We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent. All voices need to be heard. That’s democracy in its highest form.” And Raiders owner Mark Davis said that in light of the ongoing issues, “I can no longer ask our team to not say something while they are in a Raider uniform.”

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On Thursday, by a show of hands, the NFL’s 32 team owners enacted a new policy stating that all all team and personal present on the field “shall stand and show respect for the flag and then Anthem” and that clubs will be fined if their players do not adhere. The owners of the 49ers and Raiders both claim they abstained, but did not vote against the decision.

Trump, who once owned the New Jersey Generals in the now-defunct USFL football league and repeatedly retweeted suggestions that he would be a great NFL owner, has made stopping NFL protests a key priority for this administration, ironically promised as a candidate that “nobody would fight harder for free speech than me.”

So far in 2018, at least 412 people have been shot and killed by police — more than at this time in 2017.