Patriots owner Robert Kraft delivered what appeared to be a forceful criticism of his longtime friend, President Donald Trump, during a confidential emergency NFL meeting convened last fall to discuss player protests during the national anthem, according to The New York Times.
The Times has since obtained a recording from the three-hour October meeting, and published some of the remarks Wednesday from powerful pro football team owners on the topic, including Kraft.
"This kneeling," Kraft reportedly said, addressing what he called an "elephant in the room."
"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 reportedly continued. "It's divisive and it's horrible."
It was immediately unclear to the Globe whether Kraft's "divisive" and "horrible" comments referred to Trump or the players' protests. However, a separate, related New York Times sidebar characterized Kraft's quotes as one of the most biting criticisms of Trump during the meeting.
The NFL meeting came after the president in the fall bemoaned the protests during the anthem, which included players refusing to stand during ''The Star-Spangled Banner'' to protest racial inequality and the treatment of blacks by police.
If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Afterward, Kraft said he was "deeply disappointed by the tone" of Trump's comments. Trump told reporters it was "OK" that Kraft criticized him then: "He has to take his ideas and go with what he wants," Trump said, adding, "I want him to do what he wants to do."
However, Trump has a long-documented friendship with Kraft, as well as with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. In fact, Kraft was one of six NFL owners to cut Trump a $1 million check to help support the new president's 2017 inauguration festivities.