Robert Kraft ‘deeply disappointed by the tone’ of Trump’s comments on protesting NFL players

President Donald Trump, followed by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, arrives to speak during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 19, 2017, where the president honored the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots for their Super Bowl LI victory. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft during a the team's Super Bowl visit to the White House in April. –Susan Walsh / AP

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Robert Kraft says he is “deeply disappointed by the tone” of President Donald Trump’s comments Friday about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. In a statement Sunday morning, the New England Patriots owner said he supports his players’ right to protest.

“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,” Kraft said.

During a political rally Friday, Trump said NFL players who protest by kneeling during the national anthem should be fired and attributed the league’s decreased ratings this season to increased public interest in “yours truly,” as well as rule changes to protect player safety. His comments were roundly denounced by the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, player’s union director DeMaurice Smith, and many players across the NFL and NBA (which Trump also tweeted about).

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Kraft — a longtime friend of Trump who donated $1 million to the president’s inaugural celebrations and gave him a Super Bowl ring — said he thinks “our political leaders could learn a lot” from the unifying lessons of sport.

“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday. 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.”

Kraft was hardly the only NFL owner to respond to Trump’s comments over the weekend.

Following the widespread backlash to his calls for such players to be fired for freely expressing their views, Trump continued to fire away at the NFL on Twitter through Sunday morning.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was the first high-profile player to kneel during the anthem, has said he did so to protest the treatment of racial minorities in the United States.