In a major reversal, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted on Friday that the organization was wrong for not allowing NFL players to peacefully protest police brutality against Black people during the national anthem.
“We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black people,” Goodell said in a filmed statement posted to Twitter.
“We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” he added. “We, the NFL, believe Black lives matter.”
Goodell’s statement comes after a week of protests swept the country in response to the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a Black man who was handcuffed and pleading for air as a white officer knelt on his neck.
Goodell made no mention of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who started the movement to peacefully protest police brutality against Black people by taking a knee during the national anthem before NFL games.
Prior to the announcement, NFL star players from several teams came together and urged the football league to take a serious stance against racism and systematic injustice in the wake of Floyd’s death.
Odell Beckham Jr., Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Tyrann Mathieu, Ezekiel Elliott and other NFL players pleaded with the league in a video posted to social media.
The NFL has resisted players’ efforts to peacefully protest racism and police brutality ever since Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem in 2016.
More players joined the protest, but the league attempted to put an end to them by banning any form of kneeling during the national anthem in 2018.
Kaepernick became a free agent in 2017 but has not been signed onto a new team, despite continuing his training. In 2019, the NFL and Kaepernick settled a legal dispute in which the athlete accused the league of colluding to keep him from joining any teams.
Even after recruiters from seven teams came to watch Kaepernick practice last year, he reportedly still has not received any offers.
All week, protesters have marched in nearly every major city to demand systematic change in light of Floyd’s death, as well as the many other deaths of Black people in the U.S. at the hands of police or white vigilantes.
In March, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, was shot to death after Louisville, Kentucky, police broke into her home with a drug warrant while looking for someone else.
In February, two white men killed Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, while he was jogging because they thought he was a burglar but no charges were brought against the men until June.