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NFL’s Goodell to Kaepernick on protesting: ‘I wish we had listened earlier’

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a recent interview that players’ kneeling protests against racial injustice during the national anthem are “not about the flag,” adding that he wishes the league listened to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sooner when it came to the matter. 

Goodell made the comments in an interview with former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Emmanuel Acho on his YouTube series “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” that went live on Sunday.

In the interview, Acho pressed the commissioner about a statement he made in early June apologizing for the league’s past handling of the kneeling protest movement that was started by Kaepernick during the 2016 season to protest racism and police brutality.

At the time, Goodell said the league admitted that it was “wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and [encourages] all to speak out and peacefully protest” and said the league believed that “Black lives matter.”

The apology, which many critics noted did not mention Kaepernick by name, came amid nationwide protests against racial injustice and police use of force following the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in Minneapolis in late May after a white police officer was recorded kneeling on his neck during an arrest for more than eight minutes.

During the interview on Sunday, Acho addressed Goodell’s past apology and its nonmention of Kaepernick, whom he noted was the catalyst behind the protest movement for the league, while also asking, “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 said in response. “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.”

Acho then addressed some of the criticism conservatives like President Trump have leveled against Kaepernick and other players who have participated in the kneeling protests during the national anthem to protest racial injustice over the past few years by claiming the movement is unpatriotic or “disrespectful” to the country’s flag.

“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.’ 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,” Goodell said.

“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 added.

His comments come about a week after Trump again voiced opposition to players taking part in kneeling protests once the season starts back up.

“If they don’t stand for the flag and stand strongly, I’d be very happy if they didn’t open. That being said, I’d love to see them open,” Trump said earlier this month.

Tags Colin Kaepernick Colin Kaepernick Donald Trump National Football League Race in the United States Roger Goodell

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