NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sat down with former linebacker and current Fox Sports 1 analyst Emmanuel Acho to discuss Colin Kaepernick and other players who may choose to peacefully protest during the national anthem.
In the second part of an interview on Acho’s “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” series, which aired on Monday night, Goodell said that he would be in full support of players who decide to peacefully protest this upcoming season.
“Yes,” Goodell said when Acho asked him the question. “We have never disciplined a single player for anything with the national anthem and in violation. And I don’t intend to. And I will support them.”
Acho and Goodell also touched on the disconnect between team owners, and their predominantly Black workforce and players. Goodell said he wants to “make [NFL owners] have uncomfortable conversations with their players.”
“Make them go and sit and listen,” Goodell added. “Don’t listen to me in a league meeting. Go and talk to your players, have that conversation. Work with them, go with them on a ride-along. Many of our owners have by the way. They’ve gone on ride-alongs, they’ve gone to bail hearings.
“I’ve had an owner with me from the Saints, Gayle Benson who sat right there. It’s the same thing. It’ll move you to really truly understand what’s happening in your communities that you may not be seeing every day. We may be privileged or in a different part of town. But it is happening nonetheless. And it’s important to stop it and change it.”
In the first part of the interview with Acho, Goodell, who claimed that he is “very comfortable” talking about race, said that he wish he knew back then “what was going on in the communities.”
“When I had the chance to sit with our players, I never had the chance to sit with Kaep[ernick], but I talked with Kenny Stills a lot. Eric Reid, Malcolm Jenkins, Anquan Boldin… So many other players that you know, some of them sacrificed a great deal,” Goodell said.
Acho told Goodell that the message he put out a couple of months ago was “valuable.”
“At least as a former player, as a Black man in society, that message, it resonated with me, it spoke to me,” Acho said to the NFL Commissioner. “You said you listened, you heard, you learned. You even apologized to so many.”
But Acho mentioned that there wasn’t a specific message or apology to Kaepernick. So, he asked Goodell if he could publicly express his remorse and apologize to Kaepernick, what is it that he would say?
“Well the first thing I’d say is I wish we had listened earlier,” Goodell responded. “Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to. We had invited him in several times to have the conversation, to have the dialogue I wish we had the benefit of that. We never did. You know, we would have benefited from that. Absolutely.”
And for people who think the peaceful protests were about the flag, Goodell said it wasn’t.
“It is not about the flag. The message here that what our players are doing is being mischaracterized. These are not people who are unpatriotic. They’re not disloyal. They’re not against our military. In fact, many of those guys were in the military, and they’re a military family,” Goodell said. “What they were trying to do is exercise their right to bring attention to something that needs to get fixed. That misrepresentation of who they were and what they were doing was the thing that really gnawed at me.”
Goodell said that “it was horrific” to see George Floyd’s death, and added that “‘I hope people realize that’s what the players were protesting.”
“That’s what’s been going on in our communities,” Goodell added. “You see it now on television, but that’s been going on for a long, long time. And that’s where we should have listened sooner. And we should have been in there with them. Understanding it and figuring out what we can do as the NFL. We can’t solve all problems, Emmanuel. We can’t. But we’re big in our communities, we have a platform, we have an opportunity. And we’re using that effectively now. I wish we could have been doing it earlier.”