FILE PHOTO: Jan 29, 2020; Miami, Florida, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell during a press conference before Super Bowl LIV at Hilton Downtown. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, released a statement on Friday admitting mistakes were made in handling player protests and recognizing the challenges of racism. Goodell said, “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.”

The statements came after nearly 20 players shared a video challenging the NFL’s silence on today’s racial issues. Nationwide protests entered the national dialogue in response to George Floyd‘s death after a police officer kneeled on his neck for over 8 minutes. Like many businesses, the NFL issued an initial statement of condolences to the families of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. 

A white member of the league’s social media team, Bryndon Minter, was frustrated by the NFL’s empty statement because it said little about the underlying issues of racism. Motivated to act, he reached out to Michael Thomas, wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints, on Instagram. Miller wrote in his message that he hoped to “help you put pressure on [the NFL]. And arm you with a video that expressed YOUR voice and [what] you want from the League.” The video, “I am George Floyd” featured prominent athletes saying, “What if I was George Floyd?” to challenge the NFL to act against racism.

Teams across the country, such as the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars, marched in support of Black Lives Matter this weekend. Vic Fangio, the Broncos head coach, marched with his team just days after apologizing for previous statements saying the NFL was a meritocracy and claiming, “I don’t see racism at all in the NFL.” Despite Black athletes making up 70% of the league, only three head coaches and one general manager are black, showing a strong lack of representation at the higher levels of the football.

In 2003, the league implemented the Rooney Rule, which required teams to interview a certain number of non-white candidates for head coach and senior operation positions. Up to that point, only 7 people of color had served as head coach since the league’s creation in 1920. In 2020, there are still only 3 head coaches of color.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

FMIA: Anger, Apologies And Videos Gone Viral—Inside The Three Days That Sparked Major Shift In The NFL – Peter King, NBC Sports – ProFootballTalk – 6/7/2020
It’s too early to say that Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were Three Days That Changed the NFL. Action has to follow words. But the seeds are there for change.

Trump Questions NFL Commissioner’s Reversal On Protests During Anthem – NPR – 6/8/2020
In the past, Goodell has agreed with Trump on this issue. In a 2017 memo to all 32 NFL teams, he said, “we believe everyone should stand for the National Anthem. It is an important part of our game.” Throughout his presidency, Trump has accused players kneeling during the anthem of disrespecting the flag and the nation.

Bryant: Why it matters that Goodell didn’t say Kaepernick’s name – ESPN – 6/6/2020
Goodell’s statement also did not mention the name “Kaepernick,” the surest sign yet that the NFL is unserious about the actual work that needs to be done to make this right. Goodell apologized for the NFL not listening to players, and even this basic, ostensibly conciliatory statement is false. […] The NFL did a lot of listening — and concluded the course of action was to punish black people — which they have not undone. Even when trying to reach the truth, Goodell still could not tell it.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

EXAVIER POPE on Twitter, 6/6/2020: “He’s responding to what players have said, not to the player who started it all, Colin Kaepernick. Rodger Goodell is afraid that the same protests that have gripped our cities across America would grip NFL stadiums when NFL season begins”-Exavier Pope @AJENews #BlackLivesMatter

Sports Illustrated on Twitter, 6/6/2020: Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Aubrey, eyes are opening to the realities of inequality and police brutality. @aryannaprasad examines how structural racism has affected and shaped the lives of current and former Seahawks

The Washington Post on Twitter, 6/6/2020: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acted with little input from team owners when he said the league should have listened to players earlier

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