By Terrance Turner
Today, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged a truth we know to be self-evident. But that acknowledgement came only belatedly, only after years of blacklisting outspoken black players. Only after quarterback Drew Brees caught fire for clueless comments about player protests. Only after days of large-scale protests broke out in Minneapolis, Denver, Boston, L.A., New York, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and beyond — and after a frankly stunning video from the players.
Yesterday, several black NFL players released a video addressing the racism and police brutality that have led to cities ravaged by protest. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, Saints player Michael Thomas, and Giants running back Saquon Barkley appear in the film. So do two of the Kansas City Chiefs: safety Tyrann Mathieu and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Cleveland Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. join them. They all ask the NFL to condemn racism. To admit its wrongdoing. To listen to its players.
“It’s been 10 days since George Floyd was brutally murdered,” Thomas begins.
“How many times do we have to ask you to listen to your players?” Mathieu asks.
What will it take?” questions Hopkins.
“What if I were George Floyd?” they ask. To hear them pose the question — some one by one, some in unison — is poignant enough. But to witness Mathieu, Hopkins, Zeke, Beckham, Barkley, Mahomes and others say “Black Lives Matter” gave me chills. The end is devastating: Beckham, with palpable emotion in his voice and liquid eyes, ends the video by repeating: “Black Lives Matter.”
The powerful video compelled Roger Goodell to do exactly what the players asked. After the brutal murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, after the blacklisting of Colin Kaepernick from the NFL — and after 10 days of alternately peaceful and violent protests across our shores — Roger Goodell gets it. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a video today condemning racism on behalf of the NFL.
“This has been a difficult time for our country — in particular, black people in this country,” Goodell said. He expressed condolences to the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, both killed by police in recent weeks. He even admitted to wrongfully silencing NFL players.
Here are his remarks, quoted in part by Yahoo! Sports:
“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.
“We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter. I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country. Without black players, there would be no National Football League. And the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff.”Roger Goodell: NFL admits ‘we were wrong’ on player protests, says ‘black lives matter’
He’s absolutely right. Without black players, there would be no National Football League. And Roger Goodell knows it. According to a 2017 TIDES study, the NFL is roughly 70% black. And those black players form the backbone of the National Football League. It is their strength, their power, their athleticism, that power the league to earn billions of dollars year after year.
And it is their voices that have been silenced.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick drew harsh criticism (and the ire of the president) by protesting racism and police brutality in 2016. The sight of Kaepernick quietly kneeling on the sidelines during the national anthem caused heated debate across America. It was clear from the beginning what his reasons were.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said. But people apparently misheard him. Somehow it turned into a conversation about “disrespecting” the American flag. That false narrative was amplified by the president, who called on the league to fire players who kneeled. (But when white people stormed the Michigan State Capitol with firearms last month, he cheered the liberation” of America. From stay-home orders that were supposed to protect Americans from coronavirus.)
Somehow, it turned into a conversation about “offending” the military — some of whom supported Kaepernick, by the way. (Nobody talks about the fact that Kaepernick got the idea to kneel from a former Green Beret, according to the New York Times.) After Trump fanned the flames of racial animus, more and more people expressed outrage about the protests. And the NFL caved to the pressure, fining players who took a knee. Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016, despite leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl three years earlier. The NFL didn’t support his peaceful protest. But now, things are different. Maybe.
After George Floyd, 46, was suffocated by then-police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, something changed. The viral video of Chauvin spending eight minutes with his knee on Floyd’s neck was a cultural reset. It exposed the suffering that too many black Americans experience at the hands of the police. Days of protests displayed the raw pain and anger that black people felt after watching Floyd slowly die at the hands of Derek Chauvin.
That pain was intensified when reports surfaced about Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was shot eight times by police in Louisville. Police entered her home using a no-knock warrant, failing to identify themselves. They had the wrong house (!!!), and the suspect had already been arrested. They fired 22 rounds into her apartment anyway, killing Taylor. (Today would’ve been her 27th birthday.)
Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in Glynn County, Georgia, when he was stalked and then shot to death. Gregory and his son Travis McMichael trailed Arbery in their pickup truck, while William Bryan aided the ambush by trying to block Arbery in. CNN reports that as Arbery tried to run away from his stalkers and ran past Bryan’s vehicle, Bryan hit him with the side of his truck. Then he watched and filmed the McMichaels’ deadly double-team. As Gregory aimed his handgun, Travis shot Arbery at point-blank range, making sure to walk over and call Arbery a “f—king nigger” as he lay dying.
In response to these tragedies, the unrest they caused, and the voices of the players, Goodell caved.
“I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve,” Goodell said.
He can start by giving Colin Kaepernick a call.