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Roger Goodell says NFL was wrong for not listening to players about racial equality

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a news conference in Irving, Texas in 2018.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, seen here in December 2018, said in a video released Friday that the league should have listened to players earlier about fighting for racial equality.
(LM Otero / Associated Press)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a minute-long video on social media Friday night saying the league was “wrong” for not listening to players earlier about inequality and police misconduct, and encouraging “all to speak out and peacefully protest.”

“I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much needed change in this country,” Goodell said in the video, which appears to have been recorded at his home. “Without black players, there would be no National Football League, and the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality, and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff. We are listening. I am listening.

“And I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve and go forward for a better and more united NFL family.”

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Goodell’s video came in response to one released Thursday night by a collection of star players, all of them African American, who added their voices to the nationwide outrage over the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. An officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.

“It has been 10 days since George Floyd was brutally murdered,” New Orleans receiver Michael Thomas said at the beginning of the video.

Non-racists don’t fight. They may shake their finger disapprovingly, or tweet a crying emoji. Or issue bland statements as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.

“How many times do we need to ask you to listen to your players?” Kansas City safety Tyrann Mathieu said.

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“What will it take?” said Arizona receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

“For us to be murdered by police brutality?” asked Cleveland receiver Jarvis Landry.

Other star players such as Patrick Peterson, Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr., Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson also weighed in.

Goodell’s video, which came six days after the league released a more general statement about being “saddened” about the tragic events around the country, aimed to impart a clear message that the NFL is listening.

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“It has been a difficult time for our country, in particular, black people in our country,” the commissioner said. “First, my condolences to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and all the families who have endured police brutality. We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people.

“We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.”

During the Goodell era, the issue came to a head during the 2016 preseason, when then-San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem in order to draw attention to police violence against African Americans.

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Later that year, and in the season that followed, other players around the league likewise knelt during the anthem, or raised a fist in protest.

Emotions which had largely cooled were reignited in September 2017 when President Trump, speaking at a political rally, challenged NFL owners to fire any player who took a knee during the anthem.

Trump said owners should say: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!”

That spurred another round of protests. At the time, Goodell called the comments “divisive” and said they “demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game, and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our community.”

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Kaepernick has not been on an NFL roster since 2016. Last year, he settled a collusion grievance with the NFL, having argued that teams had blackballed him for kneeling during the anthem. His protest inspired a major advertisement campaign by Nike, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the company’s “Just Do It” slogan.

Since 2017, NFL owners have contributed about $44 million to more than 500 social justice initiatives as part of its Inspire Change platform. The focus has been on education, community-police relations, and criminal justice reform. On Thursday, the league pledged another $20 million to those causes.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance this week, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees was asked about the possibility of anthem protests this season.

A construction worker died after falling at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Friday, and work on the $5-billion project has been temporarily stopped.

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“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees said. “Is everything right with our country right now? No, it is not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together, we can all do better and that we are all part of the solution.”

Those comments were widely criticized in the sports world, however, and prompted a pair of apologies from Brees, one written and a second on video.

“I know there’s not much I can say that would make things any better right now, but I just want you to see in my eyes how sorry I am for the comments that I made yesterday,” Brees wrote. “I know that it hurt many people, especially friends, teammates, former teammates, loved ones, people that I care and respect deeply. That was never my intention.

“I wish I would have laid out what was on my heart in regards to the George Floyd murder, Ahmaud Arbery, the years and years of social injustice, police brutality and the need for so much reform and change in regards to legislation and so many other things to bring equality to our black communities.

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“I am sorry. And I will do better. And I will be part of the solution. And I am your ally. And I know no words will do that justice.”

Trump responded on Twitter that the quarterback was correct in criticizing the kneeling, but wrong to apologize for his statement. “I am a big fan of Drew Brees,” the president tweeted. “I think he’s truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag. OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high…

“We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag — NO KNEELING!”

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Brees responded Friday night to the president’s comments.

“Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been,” Brees wrote on Instagram. “We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities.”


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