National Football League (NFL) commissioner Roger Goodell announced on May 23 that the league will fine teams whose players protest during the pre-game national anthem. The announcement from the league and team majority-owners came after a tumultuous season in which NFL executives and President Donald Trump ignored the protests’ anti-racist goals and recast them as “unpatriotic.” A new article from the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) now shows that Trump’s attack on the protests went beyond the podium and entered the team owners’ policymaking process.

The report, which the WSJ published behind a paywall yesterday (May 30), cites non-public depositions from Colin Kaepernick’s collusion case against the league. The former quarterback and racial justice activist, who launched the kneeling protests against anti-Black police violence in 2016, accused the league of punishing his activism by blocking him from the league. His grievance cites Trump as a key influence on the league’s response to protests, via rhetoric and relationships with NFL executives.

A passage from one of the depositions, as quoted by the WSJ, shows that Trump stood by his criticism of the players during a phone conversation with Dallas Cowboys head Jerry Jones. Jones previously promised to bench any player who protested the anthem. 

“This is a very winning, strong issue for me,” Trump told Jones. “Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.”

The WSJ adds that Jones discussed the phone call with other team owners at a meeting about the protests. From the article:

“I was totally supportive of [the players] until Trump made his statement,” Stephen Ross, the Miami Dolphins’ owner and creator of programs advocating for social justice, said in his deposition. Noting that owners’ conversations with Mr. Trump were relayed during a league meeting, he said: “I thought he changed the dialogue.”