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N.F.L. Owners’ Unity With Players Might Be Short-Lived

The image was striking — several owners of N.F.L. teams locking arms with their players on the sidelines Sunday in a dramatic statement of defiance to a president who ridiculed their sport and condemned players for refusing to stand during the national anthem as a protest against racism.

And then on Monday night, the league’s most prominent owner knelt with his entire team.

Beyond the appearance of unity, though, is a far different reality: The owners have done little to support players who protest to fight social injustice. A few owners have told their players that kneeling for the anthem is inappropriate.

The owners by and large are a white, conservative group of billionaires, several of them big-dollar donors to President Trump. They have generally discouraged their players, about three quarters of whom are African-American, from anything that overshadows throwing passes and making tackles.

These are the same owners who allowed junk science produced by league-sponsored doctors to paper over the growing scientific consensus that repeated head hits are linked to long-term brain damage. They have warred repeatedly, aggressively and publicly with players over labor issues.

While some of the owners said they support the players’ right to speak out, they also worry about a backlash and recognize that many spectators object to protests during the national anthem.

“At this point, I want to get away from politics and if they are going to continue protest, then I don’t need to spend my money there,” said Brandon Gill, a realtor from Jacksonville, Fla., who is considering giving up his Jaguars season tickets. “Frankly, I’m just tired of it all.”

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