Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the United States's National Football League (NFL), has said the league made mistakes in not listening to players, in a video denouncing racism in the country amid widespread protests over police brutality against 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," Goodell said in the video published on Friday.
"We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter."
The NFL sent the video out a day after 2018 NFL Most Valuable Player Patrick Mahomes and several of his peers released a video demanding the league condemn racism.
✊🏾 pic.twitter.com/ltJwmjVVMW— Saquon Barkley (@saquon) June 5, 2020
George Floyd's death has ignited nationwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality, issues former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began speaking out against in 2016 when he started taking a knee during the national anthem.
Kaepernick, who in 2013 led the Niners to the Super Bowl but lost to the Baltimore Ravens, has since gone unsigned by any NFL team.
"Protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of Black players, coaches, fans and staff," said Goodell. "I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve."
Kaepernick was fired from his team and has never been hired since 2016 when he began kneeling to protest anti-black racism [Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images]
We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter. #InspireChange pic.twitter.com/ENWQP8A0sv— NFL (@NFL) June 5, 2020
Exavier Pope, a Chicago-based lawyer, described Goodell's move as a "hollow" and "PR" move.
"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," said Pope.
If Goodell was really sincere, about his apology he should "ask all 32-member team owners at the National Football League to issue a written apology to Colin Kaepernick" and give the former quarterback a job, said Pope.
A man holds a drawing of former NFL player Colin Kaepernick as hundreds of people participate in a silent demonstration in New York City [Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP]
A total of 18 NFL players participated in the 71-second video released on Thursday called Stronger Together.
Michael Thomas, the star receiver of the New Orleans Saints, opened the video by saying, "It's been 10 days since George Floyd was brutally murdered," before players later took turns saying, "What if I was George Floyd?"
Later, the players spoke in unison: "So on behalf of the National Football League, this is what we, the players, would like to hear you state. We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systemic oppression of Black people. We, the National Football League, admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter."
The NFL's social-justice troubles reached a peak early in the 2017 season when US President Donald Trump called for owners to get any "son of a bitch" off the field who did not stand for the anthem.
Earlier on Friday, Trump again renewed his call for an end to kneeling protests during the national anthem.
"We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart," Trump wrote on Twitter. "There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag - NO KNEELING!"
The statement was a response to quarterback Drew Brees, who apologised this week for equating the kneeling protest with disrespecting the US flag.
The league also faced criticism earlier this year when just one of five head coaching vacancies went to a non-white candidate in the most recent hiring cycle, and last month the NFL introduced rules designed to boost racial diversity among coaching staff.
Demonstrators kneel during a protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in the Harlem neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York City, US, on June 5, 2020 [Jeenah Moon/ Reuters]