Jacksonville Jaguars owner Pakistani-born American billionaire Shahid Khan says United States (US) President Donald Trump is “jealous” of the NFL and trying to soil its image in “personal” attacks in an interview with USA Today published on Thursday.
The 67-year-old who also owns English football club Fulham, spoke at an NFL owners meetings in New York, where team owners and players met to discuss Trump's call for the league to force all players to stand for the pre-game playing of the US national anthem.
“This is a very personal issue with him,” Khan told the newspaper, calling Trump “a divider, not a uniter” and noting Trump's failed 2014 bid to purchase the NFL's Buffalo Bills.
“He has been elected President, where maybe a great goal he had in life ─ to own an NFL team ─ is not very likely,” Khan said. “So to make it tougher, or to hurt the league, it's very calculated.”
Khan, who purchased the Jaguars in 2011 for $760 million, linked arms with players during the US anthem in September in the days after Trump first spoke out against NFL players kneeling in protest during the anthem, calling for them to be fired.
Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the protest kneel move last year to raise awareness of racial inequality and social injustice issues in the wake of several fatal police shootings of unarmed African-Americans.
Trump has accused players of insulting the flag, the nation and its soldiers by kneeling for the anthem while players have steadfastly denied any such motives.
Many teams have interlocked arms in unity during the anthem with some players kneeling at games across the league, using the very freedoms the US flag represents.
Khan said the NFL issue is a lesser one compared to the ethnic and religious insults and remarks Trump has uttered since starting his run for office.
“Let's get real,” Khan told USA Today. “The attacks on Muslims, the attacks on minorities, the attacks on Jews ─ I think the NFL doesn't even come close to that on the level of being offensive.”
“Here, it's about money, or messing with ─ trying to soil a league or a brand that he's jealous of.”
Trump tweeted Wednesday in the wake of the NFL refusing to require players stand during the anthem that the league was showing “total disrespect” for the nation.
The NFL remains the most popular US sports league and the world's richest sports league at $3.2 billion in total income, its 32 teams averaging $2.5bn in value.
The Dallas Cowboys are valued at a league-high $4.8bn with a Bills at a low of $1.6bn in Forbes magazine's list of team worth published last month.
Khan was among seven NFL team owners who made financial contributions to Trump, donating $1m to his inauguration fund, a move he says he does not regret.
“I have no regrets in life,” Khan said. “This ugly, toxic side sours the whole experience.”