Terry Pegula told a group of National Football League owners, players and executives that the league was “under assault” and that “all of us now, we need to put a Band-Aid on what’s going on in the country” during an October meeting to address the fallout from Donald Trump’s inflammatory comments and players kneeling during the national anthem.
The remarks by the Bills owner and others were revealed Wednesday by the New York Times, which obtained an audio recording of the nearly three-hour session with about 30 people at the league's New York offices.
The mid-October session came weeks after Trump said owners should “fire” players who failed to stand for the anthem. At the time, Pegula and wife Kim met with the teams’ players and coaches and later released a statement calling Trump’s comments “divisive and disrespectful,” and saying the organization tried to use the remarks as an opportunity to “further unify our team.”
A dozen Bills players knelt during the anthem at the next game while players and coaches locked arms after stepping several feet in front of the sideline. A smaller number of players continued protesting but eventually stopped as the season progressed.
After remarking that the league was under assault at the October meeting, Pegula unloaded a series of nautical references, according to the Times: “To me, this is like a glacier moving into the ocean,” he said, according to the Times. “We’re getting hit with a tsunami.” He said the league should never again be “a glacier crawling into the ocean.”
According to the Times, Pegula sounded anguished about when Trump would lash out at the league. “All Donald needs to do is to start to do this again,” Pegula said. “We need some kind of immediate plan because of what’s going on in society. All of us now, we need to put a Band-Aid on what’s going on in the country.”
Turns out Trump lashed out the same day as the league decided at that meeting not to enact a policy requiring all players to stand for the anthem. He tweeted the decision showed "Total disrespect for our great country!"
The league’s anthem policy was discussed at the owners meetings last month, but no proposals were made and no votes were taken. The issue could be revisited when the owners meet in May, although the policy could remain unchanged.
“From my standpoint, that’s something that the ownership and I will continue to discuss and focus on as we feel is needed,” commissioner Roger Goodell said at a news conference. “I think to me, my focus has been almost entirely on listening to players, understanding better what they were protesting. We now understand that much better. We have a deeper knowledge from our players, as well as others in the communities. I think we now just want to make this platform extraordinary.”
According to the Times, Pegula said at the October meeting that he thought the league was battling a “media problem” and that the league needed a strong spokesman, preferably a player. He made a reference to the way the gun lobby has used a celebrity spokesman.
“For years we’ve watched the National Rifle Association use Charlton Heston as a figurehead,” Pegula said. “We need a spokesman.”
He then suggested that the spokesman be an African-American.
“For us to have a face, as an African-American, at least a face that could be in the media,” Pegula said, “we could fall in behind that.”
At an appearance at the Sloan Conference in Boston in late February, co-owner Kim Pegula said she would like to see NFL players and ownership find “common ground” that would mutually benefit their business interests.
Pegula said players overlooked the impact the protests they staged by kneeling during the national anthem would have on the business of the game. The protests have frequently been cited as a reason for declining NFL television ratings and attendance.
“They didn't grow up in the sports business world,” Pegula said of players in the league. “They came in on the player side, so a lot of them just didn't understand or know the impact that it had on the business, on the organization, on our community, good or bad. I do think there's definitely an impact.”
She did not elaborate, but added, “I wouldn't shy away from it at all, because I think there is a common ground and I think a lot of it is just more about communicating and learning from each other on both sides and coming to some type of compromise at some points. And sometimes you won't be able to come to a compromise, but something usually gets done when that happens.”