Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he was told by President Donald Trump last fall that criticism of NFL players who protested during the national anthem was “a very winning, strong issue for me,” according to a report published by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
The comments were made by Jones in a sworn deposition as part of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s grievance against the NFL. Kaepernick is suing the NFL for collusion, arguing that league owners have purposely refused to sign him because of concerns about his protests during the anthem.
“This is a very winning, strong issue for me,” Trump told Jones, according to the Journal. “Tell everybody, ‘You can’t win this one. This one lifts me.’ ”
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross testified in his deposition that Trump “changed the dialogue” on how the league would handle the anthem protests, according to the Journal.
Trump has repeatedly criticized players who don’t stand for the anthem, and the fallout led to decreased television ratings for the league last season. The Journal report also said that Jones, Ross and Houston Texans owner Bob McNair testified that they are convinced the protests have hurt the NFL financially.
NFL owners met last week in Atlanta and amended their policy on anthem protocol, requiring that all players stand for the anthem while on the sidelines. If players do kneel or otherwise protest during the song, their respective teams will be fined. Teams have the option of levying fines against individual players if they demonstrate. Players who do not wish to stand during the anthem can remain in the locker room and thereby avoid having their teams and themselves subjected to fines.
Jets chairman Christopher Johnson said after the owners approved the new anthem protocol that he would not stand in the way if his players wanted to protest during the anthem and join other players around the league trying to draw attention to social justice issues.
“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules,” Johnson told Newsday last week. “If somebody takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest.”
The Journal reported that the depositions indicated that Trump’s criticism of the players factored into the owners’ discussions about the new anthem policy.
According to the report, Jones tried to take some of the credit away from Trump.
“Let’s [not] give [Trump] that much credit,” Jones said, according to the report. “But I recognize he’s the president of the United States.”
The NFL declined comment on the deposition, citing confidentiality rules of the grievance. A White House official did not dispute the testimony, according to the Journal.
“The majority of the American people agree with the president, love our country, love our flag, and it should be respected,” the official told the Journal.