In the better late than never category, the NFL finally came out with a strong statement on the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests around the nation. In an effort to remedy their earlier shortcoming, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell came out with a forceful condemnation of racism.
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
The simple statement accompanying the video from Goodell read:
“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”
A noble statement indeed. Of course, less noble when you consider what prompted it: a viral video of some of the NFL’s biggest stars (the league is predominantly African-American) calling out the league for their weak response thus far. Included in the video were Patrick Mahomes, Saquon Barkley, Michael Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr. Deshaun Watson, Ezekiel Elliott, Jamal Adams, Jarvis Landry, and DeAndre Hopkins (among others).
— Jarvis Juice Landry (@God_Son80) June 5, 2020
Goodell and NFL execs realized they had to come up with a more forceful response after a terrible week of publicity for the league. Along with their top stars calling out the lack of leadership in the league, the NFL also had to contend with New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees delivering a pretty tone-deaf “all lives matter”-esque take on Kaepernick kneeling. Granted, it truly didn’t appear that Brees knew the mistake he was making, but he was quickly dragged by his teammates, other NFL stars, and other sports figures, on social media (and it was pretty relentless).
To his credit, Brees realized his misstep quicker than Goodell and co, and quickly apologized to his teammates, other players, and called on the President and the government to do more to fight racial inequality.
And dropping the ball on this issue isn’t new for the NFL. Colin Kaepernick through this into the spotlight years ago, when he sat during the national anthem as his way to protest police brutality. Several military veterans asked him to kneel instead, so he could still show respect to the flag and the song. That wasn’t good enough for some NFL fans and it became a huge deal.
So yeah, the NFL hasn’t always handled this issue well (they did settle out of court with Kaepernick when he sued the league for blackballing him). But plenty of players have.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, the first overall pick in April’s NFL draft and the winner of the Heisman trophy, was quick to voice his support for the cause and make a call for everyone to do more to fight racism. That quickly earned him respect in his new locker room.
Embattled Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott also made a pretty bold statement by pledging $1 million to help improve police training.
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“As our communities take action, protesting and fighting for the justice of George Floyd and every black life, I am with you!” Prescott wrote on Instagram.
The NFL, now at the beginning of the right response, at least, said one true thing in their press release.
“We can and know we need to do more.”