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Terry Pegula: NFL was 'under assault' when Trump made incendiary comments about player protests

Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula was prominently featured in a New York Times report Wednesday that outlined what took place at a meeting among a group of NFL owners, players and executives last October.

The meeting, which was called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, was in response to the fallout from President Trump’s inflammatory comments about players kneeling during the national anthem as a way to protest racial injustice and police brutality.

The Times obtained an audio recording of the nearly three-hour session that included about 30 people and was held at the league’s New York offices. The mid-October session, which the Times called “extraordinary” because of how rare it is for players and owners to meet in that fashion, was called as the league dealt with backlash from fans and sponsors in response to Trump’s remarks. With TV ratings declining and boycotts being threatened, the league felt the need to act.

After remarking that the league was “under assault,” Pegula unloaded a series of nautical references, according to the Times: “To me, this is like a glacier moving into the ocean. We’re getting hit with a tsunami.” He said the league should never again be “a glacier crawling into the ocean.”

According to the newspaper, Pegula “sounded anguished over the uncertainty of when Trump would take another shot at the league.”

“All Donald needs to do is to start to do this again,” Pegula said. according to the Times. “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.”

At a rally in Alabama in late September, Trump said the owners should fire any player who took a knee and said the players were disrespecting the country. He urged fans to leave the stadium if players kneeled during the anthem.

At a Saturday meeting the night after Trump's remarks, the Bills met to discuss how players would react during the national anthem before the next day's game against the Denver Broncos. The team released a statement saying in part, “Our goal was to provide open dialogue and communication. We listened to one another. We believe it's the best way to work through any issue we are facing - on and off the field.

"President Trump's remarks were divisive and disrespectful to the entire NFL community, but we tried to use them as an opportunity to further unify our team and our organization," the statement said. "Our players have the freedom to express themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner and we all agreed that our sole message is to provide and to promote an environment that is focused on love and equality."

A dozen players elected to kneel – or in the case of running back LeSean McCoy, stretch – during the anthem before the game against Denver. Players and coaches locked arms and took a few steps onto the field in front of the home sideline. The number of players protesting decreased the following week and stopped completely the week after that.

The October meeting failed to produce any real conclusions, with the Times referring to most participants “talking past one another.” Trump seized on the inaction at the meeting on Twitter saying the failure to enact a policy requiring all players to stand for the anthem. showed "Total disrespect for our great country!"

A league-wide 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.

“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 the meetings. “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 perception and “media problem” and that the NFL 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,” he 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.”

Pegula’s wife, Kim, the Bills’ co-owner, said during a February appearance at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston that she would like to see players and owners find “common ground” that would mutually benefit their business interests.

“They didn't grow up in the sports business world,” Kim Pegula said of players protesting during the anthem, which has been cited as a reason for the declining TV ratings. “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.”

Asked at the owners meetings about what his wife said regarding a compromise, Terry Pegula said, "We're all Americans. Some people voice themselves differently than I would. I do different things than you would about something that is bothering us. That's all I can say for that. I respect my players. I respect the players' union. We'll try to get a solution that all Americans are happy with."

The Bills did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

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