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NFL Commissioner Says The League Was Wrong To Not Listen To Players About Racism


There was a startling admission late today from the commissioner of the National Football League. Roger Goodell says the NFL was wrong not to listen to its players' concerns about racism. And he says the league now encourages the kind of peaceful protests that many say cost former quarterback Colin Kaepernick his job. The statement, though, made no mention of Kaepernick. This all comes amidst a nationwide protest against police brutality against black people. Joining me now is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

Hey, Tom.


MCCAMMON: Tom, today's video statement from the commissioner appears to be a direct response to another video by players released yesterday. What was in that?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Nearly 20 players, all African American - some of the league's biggest stars - they made a powerful video entitled Stronger Together. And in it, some of them named black victims, many who've been killed by police, victims whose names have become rallying cries against police brutality. And here's an excerpt of that.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I am George Floyd.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I am Breonna Taylor.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I am Ahmaud Arbery.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I am Laquan McDonald.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I am Eric Gardner.


GOLDMAN: And, Sarah, the video ended with the players calling on the NFL to publicly condemn racism, to admit it was wrong in silencing players from peaceful protesting in the past and to say that black lives matter.

MCCAMMON: And what was the response from the NFL?

GOLDMAN: Well, late today, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released this video a little over a minute long, basically answering everything the players asked for. And here's some of that.


ROGER GOODELL: 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. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.

MCCAMMON: And, Tom, this feels like a real change in tone and focus from the NFL. What is the significance of the statement today?

GOLDMAN: Well, there are a couple reasons. Even though around 70% of the NFL's players are African American, the league has a race problem. Twenty-eight of the 32 head coaches are white. Of the general managers - another very important job - only 2 out of 32 are people of color. Now, another reason it's significant - the NFL has had a peaceful protest problem, highlighted by the treatment of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. You will remember back in 2016, he began to kneel during the playing of the national anthem before games. A handful of players joined him in the protests against police treatment of minorities and social inequality.

And the NFL didn't handle it well. It allowed the issue to be framed in the context of patriotism, and the players, the argument went, were unpatriotic for protesting during the anthem. Kaepernick's career essentially ended the next year. He's still without a job. And the others who protested often did so in a very hostile environment. President Trump infamously used an expletive to refer to them. So for Goodell to come out and say the league was wrong for not listening to these players and their protests - that is a significant admission, although, as you mentioned, he didn't mention Kaepernick. And some critics out there are saying Kaepernick still doesn't have a job, so they don't think this is that big of a deal.

MCCAMMON: Yeah, so does this really change the landscape with so many players speaking their minds now?

GOLDMAN: It does. I mean, you know, the - well, let's just say the landscape has changed - you know, the sheer numbers speaking out right now in the aftermath of George Floyd's death. But there is still resistance, and it's coming from the top again. Today President Trump weighed in. It came after New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said in an interview this week that players should not kneel during the national anthem; the same argument against protesters that we heard four years ago. Now, there was swift and angry backlash to that. And Brees made a pretty sincere apology. But today Trump tweeted that Brees should not have apologized, saying there are other things you can protest but not our great American flag. No kneeling, the president said.

MCCAMMON: Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on