In a surprise move, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell late June 5 said the league now fully supports players voicing their concerns about social injustice and police brutality — a stance the NFL decidedly avoided in recent years, especially during the early days of the Trump Administration.
In a video posted on social media, Goodell, without naming any players (i.e. former San Francisco 49er QB Colin Kaepernick, who in 2016 kneeled during the national anthem), said the NFL was wrong for ignoring previous protests about social injustice.
“We, the National Football League condemn racism and systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said on the video. “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.”
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The admission comes 12 days after an unarmed black man (George Floyd) was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day. With the killing spurring violent protests across the country, and the fact African-American players comprise 70% of its on-field talent, the NFL, like many industries, has taken proactive steps to project an air of social and racial awareness.
That stance took a hit this week when rookie Buffalo Bills QB and former University of Georgia standout Jake Fromm was forced to apologize for racist comments he made in personal messaging that was leaked online.
Then veteran New Orleans QB Drew Brees, a fixture in NFL marketing, told a Yahoo Finance interview that he did not support anyone disrespecting the American flag. Kaepernick’s protests had been usurped by conservatives and President Trump, who claimed by kneeling the QB was dissing the flag, military, veterans and country.
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“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees told Yahoo.
Brees quickly apologized twice for his comments, saying he couldn’t imagine the hurt and anguish he had caused black teammates, fans and the city of New Orleans.
“[My comments] lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy,” Brees wrote on Instagram. “Instead, those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character.”
Trump June 5 weighed in on the matter angrily tweeting that Brees should not have to apologize for his position on the flag.
“I am a big fan of Drew Brees. 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,” Trump tweeted. “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!”
Brees responded, saying he vowed to be an “ally” for black people and social justice.
“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. “We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities.
“We did this back in 2017, and regretfully I brought it back with my comments this week. We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform. We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history! If not now, then when?
“We as a white community need to listen and learn from the pain and suffering of our black communities. We must acknowledge the problems, identify the solutions, and then put this into action. The black community cannot do it alone. This will require all of us.”
The NFL has pledged $20 million in financial support to organizations fighting for social justice and racial equality.