In 2017 audio, Robert Kraft calls President Trump's rhetoric on NFL players 'divisive, horrible'

Shalise Manza YoungYahoo Sports Contributor

In public, New England Patriots team owner Robert Kraft has largely been supportive of President Donald Trump.

There was a reported rift in their relationship over Trump’s handling of the Colin Kaepernick situation, though in February of this year in an appearance on Fox News, Kraft said Trump is “working very hard to serve the best interest of the country.”

Kraft hasn’t always been so supportive.

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In audio released by TMZ on Friday, Kraft is heard calling Trump’s rhetoric around NFL players, particularly Colin Kaepernick and others who kneeled or raised a fist during the playing of the anthem to bring attention to issues of racial and social injustice, “divisive” and “horrible.”

In audio from a 2017 event, Robert Kraft calls rhetoric from President Donald Trump "divisive" and "horrible."(AP/Bill Kostroun)
In audio from a 2017 event, Robert Kraft calls rhetoric from President Donald Trump "divisive" and "horrible."(AP/Bill Kostroun)

The remarks were made at a three-hour meeting between owners, players and league executives in October 2017. The New York Times had previously published comments from Kraft, Philadelphia Eagles team owner Jeffrey Lurie and others, but this is the first time we’ve heard audio.

In September 2017, Trump said NFL players who protest should be fired; “get that son of a bitch off the field!” he shouted at an event in Alabama.

Here’s the text of the audio of Kraft:

“...That’s what the players were talking about when they knealt, but the way it was interpreted in the marketplace, it was disrespectful of the flag, the military. Any of us who have the privilege of being involved in NFL franchises know how great the players are and how they’re different than the average Americans; they believe to be good, believing in teamwork, working together, all the stuff that all of us are privileged to know.

“But I must tell you: I think these dialogues are great, but the elephant in the room now, in my opinion, is this kneeling, which every player has a right to do if they feel it’s right, the problem we have is that we have a president that will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don’t feel is in the best interest of Americans — it’s divisive and it’s horrible and it’s actually the opposite of what you all are trying to do. If there’s a way we can link that to whatever we’re doing and now, understand — we’ve lost the message to America because there’s just 40 percent of the people who see this, who just see this as their own, whatever their own bigotry or misunderstandings are, it feds into it. I just hope that one of the things that can come out of here is we find a way to be unified and be able to carry through and follow through, and I do think most teams are doing this stuff already, maybe the connection between the players and ownership hasn’t been as strong as it should be.”

In the days after Trump’s “son of a bitch” comment, Kraft released a statement saying he was “deeply disappointed” with Trump’s words and that he was proud to be associated with so many players making “tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities.”

Kraft has a long relationship with Trump, and has said that Trump called him frequently as his wife, Myra, battled ovarian cancer before her death in 2011.

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