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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during a recent interview that he wished the league had listened to ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick “earlier” after he started kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem.
In an interview with former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Emmanuel Acho for his YouTube-based series, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” Goodell repeated an earlier apology and insisted that players who take a knee while “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played are not disrespecting the flag or the country.
In June, as protests, violence, looting, and rioting stemming from the George Floyd incident spread across the country, Goodell used the occasion to apologize on behalf of the league for pushing back against kneeling demonstrations after Kaepernick started them in 2017. He said it was “wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and [encourages] all to speak out and peacefully protest,” and that “black lives matter.”
Goodell didn’t mention Kaepernick specifically in his apology.
In a subsequent interview, however, the NFL chief said he supported the 32-year-old former signal caller’s return to the league.
“If he wants to resume his career in the NFL, then it’s gonna take a team to make that decision,” Goodell said. “I welcome that, support a club making that decision and encourage them to do that.”
Acho picked up on Goodell’s non-mention of Kaepernick, asking the NFL head at one point, “If you were to publicly express your remorse, apologize to Kaepernick what would you say?”
“Well, 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 answered.
“We had invited him in several times to have the conversation, to have the dialogue. I wish we had the benefit of that, we never did. We would have benefited from that, absolutely.”
The retired NFL linebacker then addressed criticisms from conservatives and others who believe that players kneeling during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner are “disrespectful” to the American flag, which is generally unfurled as the anthem is sung.
“Sometimes, because I’ve known for years now that the peaceful protests during the national anthem — it was never about the flag — to the point where I just want to rip out my hair sometimes and say ‘it’s not about the flag,’” said Acho. “If you were to be able to relay that message what would you say? Like to people who still think it’s about the flag, what would you tell them?”
“It is not about the flag. The message here that what our players are doing is being mischaracterized. These are not people who are unpatriotic. They’re not disloyal,” said Goodell.
“They’re not against our military. In fact, many of those guys were in the military and they’re a military family. What they were trying to do is exercise their right to bring attention to something that needs to get fixed, and that misrepresentation of who they were and what they were doing was the thing that really gnawed at me,” he noted further.
The NFL preseason was initially scheduled to begin with the annual Hall of Fame Game Aug 6. But all preseason games have been canceled due to the novel coronavirus.
The start to the regular season is currently slated for Sept. 10 when the Houston Texans take on the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. The NFL has already announced it will allow protesting players to kneel during the anthem, and during Week 1, all games will feature the Star-Spangled Banner and the playing of the so-called ‘black national anthem,’ “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
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