At the end of a long, tumultuous week for our country — one that was both heart-breaking and heart-warming — the NFL has formally joined the conversation.
“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 players earlier, and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter,” Roger Goodell said in a video apparently shot in his now-famous basement.
“I personally protest with you, and want to be part of the much needed change with you,” he continued. “Without black players, there would be no National Football League, and the protests around the country are emblematic of 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.”
We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter. #InspireChange pic.twitter.com/ENWQP8A0sv
— NFL (@NFL) June 5, 2020
Now, there are multiple reasons to be skeptical of this statement — the first reason being that, nearly a full week after college head coaches started releasing statements of their own, the NFL waited until 6:31 p.m. Eastern time on a Friday night to put this out. (Certainly, that the league office wanted to wait until after a group of prominent black players put out their own statement was part of the calculus here.)
Another reason for skepticism is that the video is clearly Goodell and Goodell alone speaking here. While he is the NFL commissioner, the commissioner works at the behest of the 32 league owners. It is they who wield the gavel ruling whether to punish or elevate any players who may ultimately decide to protest this fall. It is the 32 owners, not Goodell, who hold the power to fix the NFL’s paltry record of hiring minorities to decision-making positions on coaching staffs and front offices. Among the 96 men occupying NFL general manager, head coach and offensive coordinator jobs, seven are black. That is an issue only league ownership, not the league office, can fix.
But growth should always be encouraged and celebrated in life, and so Friday night’s pledge should be met with celebration (with a healthy dash of caution on the side).
Watching Goodell speak, my mind couldn’t help but think of Colin Kaepernick.
Days ago, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications and government affairs during the time of the Kaepernick uproar wrote that the NFL wronged Kaepernick,
“I was wrong. I think the teams were wrong for not signing him. Watching what’s going on in Minnesota, I understand how badly wrong we were,” Joe Lockhart wrote in an op-ed on CNN’s website Saturday.
It’s simply impossible to hear Goodell say the words “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to players earlier” and not think of Kaepernick. The former 49ers quarterback is regarded as a hero and a martyr among the NFL’s set of socially active players, whom Goodell promised to reach out to.
Simply put, many in society, many in the NFL, won’t view the league’s attempt to move forward with any sort of sincerity and legitimacy if they don’t extend an olive branch toward the player it once fought in a collusion lawsuit.
Certainly, the cause is bigger than any one person, and the NFL has immense power to bring about positive change for American society. The country will be watching, and concrete action is expected.