On Sept. 24, two days after President Trump said NFL owners should fire players who "disrespect the flag," 17 Patriots players knelt during the national anthem as a show of unity. Following a team meeting, the players decided to stand together with one hand over their heart and the other on the shoulder of the teammate next to them.
Patriots owner Bob Kraft, in a recent interview with the BBC that centered around Colin Kaepernick, said that, like Trump, it's very important to respect the flag. But unlike the president, Kraft doesn't think it should come at the expense of denying someone their First Amendment rights.
"The greatest enemy in sport is division from within," Kraft said. "I personally feel it's very important to respect our flag and our anthem. But I also respect the right of people in this country to make statements or protests, peacefully, in a way that's appropriate to them.
"I think there were some comments made about what our young men were doing that were a little inflammatory and inappropriate, and I thought I had to speak out. I spoke to the team, and I told them that they were free to do what they thought was correct as long -- I try to bring unity and bring things together, and part of that is respecting how other people think. Even if it's genuine, even if it's different than the way I speak; the way you build team and you build success is to let people be themselves."
Kraft, who is a close friend to Trump and donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration celebration, had previously condemned the president's remarks about firing players who knelt during the anthem.
"I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday," Kraft said in Sept. 24 statement. "I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger."
Meanwhile, Kraft doesn't think Kaepernick, who has been a free agent since the offseason and hasn't had a single workout with an NFL team despite the dearth of quality quarterbacks, is being blackballed.
"I have never heard anyone talk about blocking [Kaepernick] or excluding him," Kraft said.
Asked if Kaepernick will get another chance to play in the NFL, Kraft added, "I would think that's a possibility."