NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell publicly apologized Friday for not “listening” to black players when they spoke out about racism.
“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,” he said.
For years, the NFL has wrestled with public perception of the way it handled players who knelt during the national anthem. In 2018, the league faced backlash for approving a policy that blocked players from kneeling on the field, and eventually halted it.
The about-face comes amid widespread protests in response to the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, as well as other African-Americans’ deaths. In his video, Goodell wholeheartedly embraced the Black Lives Matter movement, which protests racial inequity in the justice system.
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“We, at the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter,” he said. “I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much needed change in this country.”
“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.”
Goodell’s video touched on an already raging debate regarding sports and politics.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees recently came under fire for saying he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.” He later issued multiple apologies and faced intense backlash from President Trump, who highlighted the kneeling issue in 2018.
“I am a big fan of Drew Brees,” Trump tweeted Friday. “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.”
Amid Floyd’s death, more than half of the 32 NFL teams did not have coaching staff at their facilities Friday even though the league approved such returns where local governments allow them amid the coronavirus pandemic.
After his team’s protest march against inequality and police brutality that went from the stadium to the steps of the local sheriff’s department in Jacksonville, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone went to his office, but no other coaches accompanied him.
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“We’ve operated virtually from our homes this whole offseason,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said, “so I made it totally optional for our staff. If they wanted to come in, they can. It is great to be back here today, but I’m going to leave it up to each individual’s discretion whether or not they want to come back into this building.”
Texans coach Bill O’Brien was holding discussions on when his staff would begin joining him at the team facility.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.