OPINION: Roger Goodell, NFL possesses only one path back from botching anthem protests
The first step to fixing a problem is admitting that one exists. In many ways, that's the hardest part. However, the first step is only the start and can hardly exonerate someone on its own.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell denouncing racism, especially "the systematic oppression of black people," in a video on Friday night is a monumental moment not only for the league but the United States. Over the last decade, the NFL has been slow on numerous social issues, but it obviously has the platform to be a beacon of hope and change if it ever wants to be. Jason Reid of ESPN called Goodell's response a "major shift," and other reactions from the commissioner's video have been generally positive.
In his video Friday night, Goodell said:
"It has been a difficult time in our country, in particular, black people in our country. First, my condolences to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all the families who have endured police brutality.
"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.
“We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter. I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country. Without black players, there would be no National Football League. And the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality, and oppression of black players, coaches, fans, and staff.
"We are listening. I am listening. And I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve and go forward for a better and more united NFL family."
Maybe this will be the beginning of a new age in the NFL where the league proactively campaigns for positive change rather than reacting only during a crisis. But for now, the league still falls in the latter category, and the only true way to break the cycle is to welcome back Colin Kaepernick.
As meaningful as Goodell's apology is, similar to the one from New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, it came not truly from his own volition. Star players Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham Jr. and Ezekiel Elliott released a video Thursday calling for Goodell and the league to take a stronger stance against social issues minorities face in the United States. Only then did Goodell act and release his apology.
But perhaps the more important thing to note is Kaepernick's absence in Goodell's statement. Even in the midst of calling for change, the league can't help but forget to include the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, as the NFL has for the last three seasons.
It's hard to think of any American, let alone an NFL player, who has called for more social changes than Kaepernick the last few years. He was at the forefront of this issue, seemingly on his own, four years ago when he began kneeling during the U.S. national anthem to raise awareness to the social injustices in the United States. Eventually, other players, both black and white, joined, but it was Kaepernick's idea. It was his campaign.
In the social media era of false information, it takes a big person to admit wrongdoing. It's easier to deflect and deny. Goodell took a major step with his apology Friday, and yet, it will ring hallow if he doesn't take the next necessary measures to actually make things different.
Goodell can't force an NFL team such as the Atlanta Falcons to sign Kaepernick (although I agree with my colleague Rashad Milligan that Arthur Blank and the Falcons organization should strongly consider it), but Goodell should begin admitting the historical significance Kaepernick holds at the desire of change. Maybe one day, the commissioner will even beam with pride over the fact Kaepernick, a person so steadfast in what he believed that he gave up his NFL dream, once played in the league.
At the very least, Goodell can make Kaepernick one of the voices he listens to. After all, no one has spoken louder.
After the commissioner's video Friday, the NFL is on the right path to cause social change, but Goodell won't get the league where it wants to be until the NFL offers some sort of olive branch to Kaepernick.