Last week, the National Football League unveiled a punitive policy that fines teams whose players take a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Critics have lambasted the new guidelines for their rank nationalism and racial pandering, but it wasn’t just white fans the league was hoping to appease. As a new Wall Street Journal report reveals, President Trump personally lobbied team owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell to take action—and coerced them into doing so.

“This is a very winning issue, strong issue for me,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones claims the president told him over the phone. “Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.”

Jones delivered his statement as part of a deposition in the collusion lawsuit against the league by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In a gesture that touched off the current debate, Kaepernick first knelt during the national anthem as a protest against police brutality and systemic racism. He has been unemployed since 2016 despite multiple NFL executives reportedly viewing him as a starter in the league as recently as last year.

Jones was not the only NFL owner to address Trump’s maneuverings. In a separate deposition, Stephen Ross of the Miami Dolphins admitted the president “changed the dialogue” surrounding the anthem protests. “I was totally supportive of [the players] until Trump made his statement,” he said. (During a campaign rally for Luther Strange, a Senate hopeful running in Alabama, Trump called any player who chose to take a knee a “son of a bitch.”)

Several owners, including Ross, Jones and the Houston Texans’ Bob McNair, testified that national anthem protests have impacted their teams financially, but as Deadspin’s Dom Cosentino observes, it’s unclear “how much of that can be attributed to fans avoiding the NFL because of protests, versus those staying away out of solidarity [with] Kaepernick.” Both McNair and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft expressed grave misgivings about Trump’s anthem stance but were unwilling to defy the president.

Ultimately, the Journal’s latest revelations merely confirm what was already readily apparent: President Trump is willing to employ strong-arm tactics to achieve his political ends, and the NFL’s owners will do anything to protect their bottom lines.

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