On Thursday night, a group of very prominent African American players in the National Football League released a video addressing racial injustice and police brutality, and urging the league to take action and speak up. The video, which featured Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and many others, wanted to hear the league affirm the message that Black Lives Matter, to condemn racism, and to admit to being wrong for not listening to players and silencing their protests.
It’s important to note that the players did this with the league’s knowledge and presumed blessing, largely organized by the New Orleans Saints’ Michael Thomas, who collaborated with a member of the league to put the video together.
Commissioner Roger Goodell responded to the video with a video address of his own, presumably from the basement of his house, where he hosted the 2020 NFL Draft. In it, he sought to address the players’ issues, which a number of players agreed was his ‘finest moment’. Below is my transcription of his comments:
It has been a difficult time for our country, in particular, black people in our country. First, my condolences to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all the families who have endured police brutality. 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. 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. 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.
While there have been many divides between the NFL and its players, even specifically about these issues, the most public and prominent centered around the manner in which some players peacefully protested, particularly during the 2017 and especially the 2017 seasons, taking a knee while the national anthem was played before games.
Around this time two years ago, the league adopted a new anthem policy that, while it allowed players to not take the field during the anthem, would also enable teams to fine players for participating in protests during the anthem, and the league would also fine teams whose personnel ‘do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem’. After months of back and forth with the NFLPA, the policy was ultimately put on hold, and I don’t believe anything ever replaced it.
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