Last Friday, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell posted a video endorsing the aims of Black Lives Matter and, shockingly, apologized for the league's previous position on peaceful protests.
Since taking a knee during the national anthem is the only protest that warranted the NFL's attention, the statement represents an earthshaking reversal by Goodell.
"We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People," wrote Goodell on Twitter. "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."
Here's the tweet and the accompanying video. Goodell reads the statement quoted above and goes on to say, "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."
That's quite a turnaround from one of the most conservative business groups in the United States. What inspired this new attitude? Some of the league's biggest stars, including MVP and Super Bowl champion QB Patrick Mahomes, Mike Thomas, Saquon Barkley, Deshaun Watson, Tyrann Mathieu, Ezekiel Elliott, DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham Jr. dropped a video on Twitter last Thursday.
After comparing themselves to African Americans killed in encounters with law enforcement (starting with "I am George Floyd"), the players challenge the league to make a statement on racism and even offer up suggestions on what to say, suggestions that actually seem to have informed the video that Goodell made the following day.
The players' video was made with the help of a rogue employee in the NFL's social media department who was frustrated that the league had remained silent on the issues surrounding Black Lives Matter.
Close observers will remember that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick wanted to draw attention in 2016 to the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police. He first sat during the national anthem and got heat for doing so.
The popular notion at the time was that he was disrespecting the flag and therefore disrespecting the troops. Kaepernick had a conversation with former Army Green Beret and NFL veteran Nate Boyer, who suggested that the QB take a knee during the anthem to both show respect and draw attention to the cause.
Taking a knee didn't ease the social media firestorm, and the NFL tried to make rules that would require players to stand during the anthem. After the 2016 season, the 'Niners released Kaepernick, and he's been blackballed by the league ever since.
President Donald Trump reacted to the statement in a tweet Saturday night.
"Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell's rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?" he wrote.
Fair question. It seems that's exactly what the NFL was declaring with its statement Friday. This new position can't really be reconciled with the old one.
If the NFL believes that kneeling isn't actually disrespecting the troops, then why did the league use that idea to drum up public support for its efforts to avoid a discussion about America's race issues with its players? Was it using its fan base's patriotism to keep the league's players from participating in a national conversation about racism?
Or maybe kneeling does disrespect the military, but the NFL has decided that the winds have changed and now it risks more by not supporting the players. Neither conclusion makes the NFL's actions (either today or over the last four years) look very good.
Once the NFL gets back on the field, don't be surprised if an overwhelming majority of the players, coaches, owners and even fans are kneeling during the anthem. How should military members, veterans and their families respond then?
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