After years of controversy over protests during the national anthem, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell said in an interview this week that he wished he had listened earlier to controversial quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests on police brutality.
Goodell appeared on the latest episode of the interview series "Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man" hosted by former NFL linebacker and current Fox Sports analyst Emmanuel Acho.
The commissioner began the conversation by claiming he was “very comfortable” talking about race because of his upbringing with a politician father who was very involved in the civil rights movement.
The 61-year-old admitted that he had no idea what was happening in black communities in 2016 when Kaepernick and other players began peacefully protesting by taking a knee during the national anthem, something that angered many conservative fans.
He said wish he knew back then “what was going on in the communities.”
“When I had the chance to sit with our players, I never had the chance to sit with Kaep[ernick], but I talked with Kenny Stills a lot, Eric Reid, Malcolm Jenkins, Anquan Boldin … so many other players that, some of them sacrificed a great deal,” Goodell, who has served as the league’s commissioner since 2006, shared.
Acho, 29, commended Goodell for posting a video message earlier in the year, admitting the NFL's fault in not listening to players sooner when it comes to the injustices African Americans face and encouraged them to protest peacefully. In 2018, the league issued a policy to require players that didn’t want to stand for the playing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" to wait in the locker room.
The host said the league’s statement this June admitting fault was “valuable.”
“At least as a former player, as a black man in society, that message, it resonated with me, it spoke to me,” Acho said. “You said you listened, you heard, you learned. You even apologized to so many.”
However, Goddell’s statement in June did not include a specific apology to Kaepernick, a 32-year-old former San Francisco 49er who has not played in the league since the 2016 season.
Kaepernick supporters have accused NFL teams of shunning Kapernick for his acts of protest, which have come under the scrutiny of President Donald Trump.
Acho asked Goodell to publicly speak to Kaepernick right there and then.
“Well, the first thing I’d say is: I wish we had listened earlier, Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to,” Goodell responded. “We had invited him several times to have the conversation, to have the dialogue. I wish we had the benefit of that. We never did. We would have benefited from that. Absolutely.”
The New York native went on to refute the argument that players who kneel peacefully during the anthem are protesting the American flag or the U.S. military.
“It is not about the flag,” the commissioner said. “The message here that what our players are doing is being mischaracterized.”
Goodell stated that protesting players are “not people who are unpatriotic” or “disloyal.”
“They’re not against our military. In fact, many of those guys were in the military, and they’re a military family,” Goodell continued. “What they were trying to do is exercise their right to bring attention to something that needs to get fixed. That misrepresentation of who they were and what they were doing was the thing that really gnawed at me.”
The commissioner called George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day that inspired nationwide protests “horrific.” He added that “‘I hope people realize that’s what the players were protesting.”
“That’s what’s been going on in our communities,” Goodell added. “You see it now on television, but that’s been going on for a long, long time. And that’s where we should have listened sooner.”
“And we should have been in there with them, understanding it and figuring out what we can do as the NFL,” the commissioner added. “We can’t solve all problems, Emmanuel. We can’t. But we’re big in our communities, we have a platform, we have an opportunity. And we’re using that effectively now. I wish we could have been doing it earlier.”
In the second part of the dialogue with Acho, Goodell said he would support NFL players peacefully kneeling.
He revealed that he himself never experienced many things people in the black community have faced. He said he did his part to educate himself by partaking in ride alongs and taking calls at call centers.
Goodell concluded the "Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man" episode by vowing to do his part to “listen,” “lead” and use the NFL platform to do more to find solutions for the black community.
While Goodell claims that player protests are not about the flag, Kaepernick said in August 2016 that he protested the anthem because he is “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”