Roughly 30 NFL figureheads met last October at league headquarters to discuss the national anthem protesting issue.
The New York Times reports that the group, which consisted of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, owners, league executives, and players, took place about a month after President Donald Trump's divisive comments on players’ kneeling fanned the flames on the issue.
Among those present were New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, as well as former Patriot defensive lineman Chris Long.
The top issue for the players was the status of Colin Kaepernick, who went unsigned after his contract expired with the San Francisco 49ers following the 2016 season. Kaepernick, who was the first player to begin protesting the anthem during a preseason game in August 2016, remains unsigned.
"If he was on a roster right now, all this negativeness and divisiveness could be turned into a positive," Long, now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, said at the meeting.
Kraft was focused on the issue of kneeling, which he referred to as another "elephant in the room," according to the Times.
"The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don't feel is in the best interests of America," Kraft said. "It's divisive and it's horrible."
The weekend after Trump made comments at a rally in Alabama that players who kneel "should be fired," an increased volume in protests league-wide was seen. This included 17 members of the Patriots kneeling for the anthem prior to their Week 3 game vs. the Houston Texans, which sparked an uncomfortable situation at Gillette Stadium with fans booing the players while others could be heard shouting "get up" or "stand up."
The owners at the meeting kept returning to the bottom-line issue of fans and sponsors angry at the protests. The threat of boycotts, the burning of player jerseys and of course, declining ratings, were the biggest cause of concern for the owners.
Texans owner Bob McNair said to the players, "You fellas need to ask your compadres, fellas, stop that other business," referring to kneeling. "Let's go out and do something that really produces positive results, and we'll help you."
McNair reportedly said at the same meeting the NFL can’t have "inmates running the prison."
The two sides said after the meeting that they should issue a joint statement. Kraft wanted the statement to reflect how everyone had come together for a good cause, the report read.
"It would be good if you could work in the word 'unified' or 'unity' in some fashion," Kraft said.
The joint statement read: "Today, owners and players had a productive meeting focused on how we can work together to promote positive social change and address inequality in our communities. NFL executives and owners joined NFLPA executives and player leaders to review and discuss plans to utilize our platform to promote equality and effectuate positive change. We agreed that these are common issues and pledged to meet again to continue this work together."