Roger Goodell: 'I wish we had listened earlier' to Colin Kaepernick

On June 5, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a video proclaiming that “Black lives matter” and that the NFL was wrong in shunning peaceful player protests of social injustice and police brutality.

It was a stunning reversal of policy and a bellwether of the larger culture shift on issues of race in the United States in the aftermath of George Floyd’s homicide at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Prior to Goodell’s about-face amid a larger race reckoning, the league’s defining statement on the issues was Colin Kaepernick’s inability to find a job. While Goodell apologized that day for the league’s general response to peaceful player protests, he did not directly apologize to Kaepernick, whose leadership on the movement led to his blackballing from the league.

What would Goodell say to Kaepernick?

In an interview released on Sunday, Goodell addressed Kaepernick. He did so in an interview with former NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho, who now hosts a digital show titled “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.”

Acho asked Goodell directly what would he say if given the opportunity to apologize to Kaepernick directly.

“The first thing I’d say is I wish we had listened earlier, Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to,” Goodell said. (5:07, above)

Goodell then shifted from the question to point out that Kaepernick never spoke with him or members of the NFL directly about his stance.

“We invited him in several times to have the conversation, to have the dialogue,” Goodell continued. “I wish we had the benefit of that. We never did. We would have benefited from that. Absolutely.”

Goodell’s new understanding of player protests

Goodell went on to explain his understanding now of what the protests during the national anthem mean to players who conduct them.

“This is not about the flag,” Goodell said. “These are not people who are unpatriotic. They’re not disloyal. They’re not against our military.”

A tight shot of Roger Goodell's face in front of the NFL logo.
Roger Goodell addressed how he wished he had responded to Colin Kaepernick. (David Goldman/AP)

Why didn’t Goodell understand before?

It’s a message that protesting players repeatedly stated over the course of their protests that now resonates in places where it once didn’t. Why didn’t Goodell understand it before this summer? He says he wasn’t aware of the extent of the social injustice that regularly occurs in Black communities.

“Just what was going on in the communities,” Goodell said when asked what he knows now that he didn’t before. “I didn’t know what was going on in the communities. When I had the chance to sit with our players players — I never had the chance to sit with Kaep.

“But I talked with Kenny Stills a lot. Eric Reid. Malcolm Jenkins, Anquan Boldin. So many other players. Some of them sacrificed a great deal.”

Reports of police brutality and social injustice have been widespread and available for long before Kaepernick’s protests began. Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray — to name a few — are not unfamiliar names to anyone who keeps up with news in the United States.

But to his credit, Goodell said he sought out experiences to better understand what he didn’t before.

“When I listened to them,” Goodell told Acho of what prompted his change of heart. “I heard it. And I believed it.

“But when you go and sit in one of those bail hearings, or you go on a ride-along, you go talk to a parent who’s lost their child because of police brutality. It’s better than hearing. You feel it. You hear it. You know it, and you see it.”

Acho promised more to come in Part II of the interview.

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