The NFL took a big step forward on Friday night when Roger Goodell admitted "We were wrong" for at least part of how the league has handled players kneeling during the national anthem in the past. It was equally significant that Goodell vowed to "encourage all to peacefully protest" -- a sign he will stand by protesting players, no matter how much anyone complains.
It was the right thing to do. It was an important step to take.
It just can't be the last.
Words do matter, but they will always ring hollow if they are not accompanied by action, and the NFL has huge systemic racial issues of its own that it needs to address. It also has an enormous platform with outsized influence in America that it needs to use to push the cause of social justice.
Here's a look at some of what the NFL needs to do next:
Address what happened to Colin Kaepernick
The most glaring omission from Goodell's video was that he didn't mention Kaepernick, the quarterback who started the kneeling protests and was subsequently blackballed from the NFL. The closest anyone in the league has come to addressing it was last month when Joe Lockhart, a former NFL VP, wrote a column for CNN blaming Kaepernick's expulsion on individual team owners -- not the league -- who feared the loss of business they believed signing Kaepernick would bring.
Whatever it was, Goodell needs to explain it. Individual owners need to address it, too. The NFL needs to apologize, but more importantly, some owner needs to hire Kaepernick and make this right.
Allow and embrace the protests
It's what Goodell promised, right? He even used the word "encourage." That means allowing the players to protest the way they want to. Don't compromise by letting individual team owners encourage them to stand and then make a show of standing with them. Have every owner in the league say "We support their right to kneel."
And join them. They don't have to, of course, but it would be a show of solidarity and strength. Yes, some fans will be upset. Yes, a small fraction of money would be lost. But the entire NFL will benefit in the long run from doing the right thing.
Start hiring more minority coaches and GMs
The Rooney Rule was well-intended, but 17 years after it was passed there are only four minority head coaches and two minority GMs. And now the NFL has even looked into basically bribing teams to hire more minorities using draft picks as bait.
That's pathetic, and not just because more than 70 percent of the league's players are black. There needs to be a concerted effort by the league and individual owners to hire more people of color as coordinators, head coaches, GMs and all front-office positions. And more minorities in the league office wouldn't hurt either.
If the NFL wants to be taken seriously on racial issues, it needs to clean up its own house (or houses) first.
Use their influence to affect social change
The NFL has incredible leverage and it's rarely afraid to use it. They use the threat of franchises moving to extract new stadiums and concessions from local governments. They dangle Super Bowls and drafts as rewards for those governments that do right by them.
Now they should use that leverage for something other than their own financial gain. Imagine the power the NFL would have by telling the city of Minneapolis that, in the wake of George Floyd's death, they will get no more events -- drafts, Super Bowls or whatever -- if they don't enact some meaningful police reform. Or they tell Cleveland they'll pull next year's draft without a meaningful commitment to community outreach organizations. Or they say to Los Angeles or New Orleans or Miami they'll get no more Super Bowls without similar programs or reforms.
If that seems offensive, well, what's more objectionable: doing something like that for the good of the community? Or leveraging a Super Bowl to get governments in Arizona, Dallas, Minneapolis and more to chip in hundreds of millions of dollars for new stadiums?
The NFL should use their influence not only with governments but with corporate partners, too. Witness how the Carolina Panthers dissolved their partnership last week with CPI Security right after the company's CEO sent an offensive letter to a Charlotte community leader who was calling for police reform and told him to "Please spend your time in a more productive way."
And by the way, this would not be unprecedented. In 2016, the NFL threatened not to hold future events in Atlanta unless the governor of Georgia vetoed a mis-named "religious liberty bill" that would've allowed widespread discrimination against LBGTQ people (the governor eventually did veto it). And it did the same in 2017 against Texas' hideous "bathroom bill" which targeted transgender people (that bill never got to the statehouse floor for a vote).
They should use that leverage to encourage racial and social justice, too.
Stand up to Trump
One of the lowest moments for the NFL in recent years was when the current U.S. president said that any player who kneels during the anthem is a "son of a bitch" and should be fired. Players -- even those who didn't kneel -- were generally horrified. They were also disgusted that the league mostly reacted with silence.
The tone of the NFL began to change last week when Goodell said he would "encourage" anyone who wanted to protest. Even Drew Brees wrote an open letter to the president letting him know his stance was ill-informed. The president's response was a Tweet (surprise) that took aim at the NFL again and Goodell for "intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to kneel … thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?"
The NFL hasn't responded, but it should. It should say "Yes, Mr. President, we are saying it's OK for players to express their Constitutional right to protest, and we understand it is not at all a show of disrespect for the country or flag. Quite the opposite, really." It doesn't have to seek a fight, but it has to respond in defense of its players.
They've said they have their players' backs, so now they should show it. They can't let anyone, anywhere bully anyone in the league.