While countless sports organizations have released statements condemning police brutality and racial injustice amid the ongoing George Floyd protests, the NFL has remained silent … until now. Commissioner Roger Goodell finally addressed the Black Lives Matter movement in a video message posted to the NFL’s Twitter account Friday, apologizing for not responding to players’ concerns sooner while taking a hard stance against racism and the oppression of minorities.
“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,” said Goodell. “I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country.”
Goodell’s acknowledgment came less than a day after a number of prominent players including Davante Adams, Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham, Ezekiel Elliott, Stephon Gilmore, DeAndre Hopkins, Patrick Mahomes, Michael Thomas and Deshaun Watson came together in a video decrying racism and police brutality. The league has also been dealing with fallout from uninformed comments made by Drew Brees, who offended many (including several of his Saints teammates) with his pointed remarks about standing for the national anthem and respecting the American flag.
“Without black players, there would be no National Football League,” said Goodell. “The protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff.”
Race has been a hot topic in the NFL of late with many criticizing the league for its lack of diversity in coaching hires. Of the NFL’s current head coaches, only three of the 32—Miami’s Brian Flores, Anthony Lynn of the Chargers and longtime Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin—are African American. The Rooney Rule, requiring all teams to interview at least one minority candidate in their head-coaching searches, has largely been a failure. Just ask Kansas City’s Eric Bieniemy, who has been poised to make the leap from offensive coordinator to head coach for years now with nothing to show for it.
The league’s struggles in promoting racial equality were never more apparent than in 2016, when Colin Kaepernick and other black players were vilified for kneeling during the national anthem. Kaepernick, whose NFL tryout last fall was largely a PR stunt, has been out of the league ever since.
“We are listening. I am listening,” Goodell offered in his closing remarks. “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 said all the right things on Friday. Now it’s time to find out if the commissioner actually means what he said or if the league was simply paying lip service to its countless critics amid a PR firestorm.