Bengals owner Mike Brown said President Donald Trump’s numerous tweets attacking NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem have prolonged the issue, which he sees as one of the league’s biggest distractions.
Brown noted at the team’s annual preseason luncheon Tuesday that the NFL and the players’ union are trying to develop an anthem policy that will hopefully please not only owners and players, but fans and the president, too. He said the president’s tweets have worked against finding a resolution to the issue.
“I think that worked against us,” Brown said. “I think it stirred the pot, it got people looking at it unfavorably, and he has worked that issue for, I suppose, political reasons. It is what it is. It’s beyond my pay grade.”
Trump has attacked the NFL and players who protested social injustice by kneeling during the “Star Spangled Banner.” The league adopted a policy in May that would fine clubs if their players protest on the field, but gave them the option to stay in the locker room during the anthem.
The issue flared again last week when the Miami Dolphins developed a policy that would leave players subject to suspensions, prompting the NFL to try to find a solution with the players’ union. Trump tweeted again that players should be suspended for kneeling, and he challenged Commissioner Roger Goodell to make a stand.
Brown said he’s seen Trump only once in person. They were in the same courtroom in the 1980s when Trump — then owner of the USFL’s New Jersey Generals — sued the NFL.
“Unlike some of the (NFL) owners you read about in the newspaper, I have never met Donald Trump,” Brown said.
Brown said he considered implementing an anthem policy for the Bengals before the league and the union decided to try for a joint resolution last week.
“Yes, I have thoughts on it,” Brown said. “Yes, we had ways of handling it. I’m not so sure that wasn’t pretty good, at least compared to others. But that’s as much as I’m going to say about this, and let’s get on to something else.”
Brown’s team also is involved in a grievance filed on behalf of free agent safety Eric Reid, who met with the Bengals but wasn’t offered a contract. Brown reportedly asked Reid during their visit whether he would continue to kneel during the anthem.
The grievance claims that Reid wasn’t signed by any team because of his anthem protests. Brown said he was scheduled to meet with the team’s lawyers on Wednesday to discuss the case. He was surprised it quickly became an issue.
“It was a quick-forming thunderhead,” Brown said. “I didn’t expect it.”
Brown is disappointed that the debate over anthem protests has lingered into another season.
“It should never have developed into the issue it has,” he said. “Yes, it bothers me that we sit here today talking about the anthem issue.”
The Bengals open camp this week coming off a second straight losing season. They haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest streak of postseason futility in NFL history. Brown chose to bring back coach Marvin Lewis for a 16th season even though he has an NFL-record 0-7 in the playoffs.
Brown said he’s concerned not only about his team’s challenges but also the challenges that the NFL faces with the focus on concussions and pregame protests.
“We have distractions,” Brown said. “We have to get beyond them. We have to get beyond the anthem issue. We have to get beyond the concussion issue. There are other things. We’re about football. That’s what fans want. And this other stuff turns off everybody. We have to get away from it somehow, and it’s a challenge for us to do that.”