The panelists on MSNBC’s "Deadline: White House" accused the NFL of "structural racism" Wednesday, blaming team owners, fans, and players’ lack of influence over the league.
Former NFL punter Chris Kluwe and radio host D.L. Hughley joined host Nicolle Wallace and other political commentators to criticize the NFL’s handling of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests. They criticized President Donald Trump for his comments on the issue but focused on the alleged racism of NFL team owners and fans.
When Wallace pointed out that NFL owners were hesitant to sign Kaepernick because he was so unpopular among fans, Kluwe said that was a result of the fans’ own racism.
"I think what we're seeing is that America still has a very huge problem with racism and a lot of fans of the NFL also happen to be racist," Kluwe said. "This is something that we're not going to fix overnight, but we do have to address it. We do have to try to fix it. I think the key takeaway here is that the owners were not interested in acting on any of the players' concerns. The owners were only interested in trying to get good PR."
Kluwe added that owners ought to sign Kaepernick to prove that they are committed to opposing Trump, who lambasted Kaepernick and those who knelt during the national anthem during a speech he made in 2017.
"They can say they’re against Trump all they want, but until they take actual action—put Kaepernick on a team, support the message that he is saying, because police brutality against African Americans is a huge problem—then their words are meaningless," Kluwe said.
Hughley scoffed at owners taking such action and argued that it’s "laughable" to expect them to be racially sensitive. Without naming anyone in particular, Hughley said there are "murderers" in the NFL but that owners refuse to allow dissent.
Wallace asked why the NFL were not strong enough to take a stand against Trump and his allies, taking a shot at Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R., Wis.).
"Why is the NFL so weak?" she asked. "Why is the NFL so afraid of Donald Trump? They're like the Paul Ryan of sports."
The New York Times’ Mark Leibovich argued that NFL owners are afraid of the president because he is unpredictable.
"A lot of the owners are cowering essentially at what Donald is going to do next," Leibovich said. He added that the protests anger many fans, and Wallace downplayed the importance of those fans.
"Who [is angry], other than the president and his supporters?" Wallace asked.
Leibovich assured Wallace that many were not on Kaepernick’s side because the NFL is "the most Republican and militaristic and patriotic" American sports league.
Hughley argued that it was not necessarily patriotism motivating Kaepernick’s critics, and then he said the NFL team owners are akin to slave owners.
"Patriotism is expressed by protest," Hughley said. "I'll say this. Look at the difference between the NFL and the NBA. If LeBron — you could never do that to LeBron James. The players are more in charge of the NBA. The NFL is more like actual slave owners. They are actually embedded more in that mentality."
Later, Hughley said he did not want to call it "slavery," but the panelists agreed that the NFL gets "disposable labor" from players.