On Friday evening, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a recorded video message in which he states the National Football League stands with black players. We the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said. “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,” Goodell said. While the name ‘Colin Kaepernick’ was not uttered by Goodell, it’s the one thing most people wanted to hear.
The apology in and of itself is a start. It’s what should have been said in 2017 when Kaepernick started taking a knee in protest against police brutality. Taking social media for what it’s worth, many believe Goodell’s mea culpa fell short simply because he omitted Kaepernick’s name. But in order to look forward we need to go back a moment.
While the President of the United Stares was calling anyone who knelt during the National Anthem a “son of a bitch,” the owners of the 32 NFL teams essentially lined up behind him without being quite so blunt. Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones made it clear that any player representing his team would stand for the flag or they would not be part of the team. The feelings of both Jones and the President seemed to echo what many NFL fans were screaming.
With money being the bottom line in America and especially in the NFL, the owners were not going to tolerate the Anthem protests for fear of losing gate money, television viewers and/or merchandise. Thus, players like Kaepernick and Eric Reid were seen as “the enemy” and became the face of those accusing them of being ‘anti-American’ because they wouldn’t stand for the flag.
For the record, Kaepernick has not taken an NFL snap since 2017 while Reid has played yet has remained outspoken. We can debate whether Kaepernick was black-balled or not signed because his play had fallen off or simply because teams didn’t want the media headache that was sure to follow. What I can tell you is I believe his play had slipped but he was still a better option than many QBs that were signed.
So Here We are in 2020
It’s been nearly two weeks since a Minnesota police officer kneeled on the neck of George Floyd ultimately killing him yet it is clear the people have had enough. Players across the NFL have voiced their outrage and we should all expect to see even more protests than we did three years ago when players take the field.
Goodell has no doubt spoken to owners over the last 10 days and even they must recognize how things have changed. I do not believe you’re going to see anything from owners that stands in the way of players peacefully protesting. Taking a knee, raising a fist… These things will be allowed and even welcomed in some stadiums. Anything deemed to go beyond “peaceful” (and I have no idea what that would look like right now) wouldn’t be tolerated.
What hasn’t changed though is the segment of NFL fans who agree with everything Drew Brees originally said this week. Some fans have claimed that they stopped watching three years ago and I’m sure there will be a faction that will make similar claims this fall. It certainly appears to me as if the owners are willing to live with this now while they weren’t three seasons past.
We often look to sports as an ‘escape’ from the realities and rigors of daily life and politics but even I have to admit there is no longer the separation we once had. It’s not for me to say it’s good or bad, it has just evolved into this. With this in mind it is obvious we are headed for a very unique NFL season. The Covid-19 pandemic had already sunk its’ teeth into the season and now the NFL’s stunning reversal on player protests will continue to alter it further. Have you changed your thinking since 2017? How will you react to players peacefully protesting this season? If you haven’t already thought about it, you should. It’s going to be a very different NFL season.