Roger Goodell: ‘I wish we had listened earlier’ to Kaepernick on protests

In the first part of his talk with Emmanuel Acho, the NFL commissioner said he hopes people better understand the kneeling former quarterback's message.

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the league’s handling of the protests of Colin Kaepernick more than four years ago. 

“I wish we had listened earlier, Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to,” Goodell said, addressing the comments to the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback.

Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell looks on before Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on February 2, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

“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 comments were made on the popular YouTube show, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” created and hosted by Emmanuel Acho, a former NFL linebacker. Acho billed the interview as part one of his conversation with the commissioner.

Goodell said that he regrets how Kaepernick’s and other players’ actions were misinterpreted as being anti-American or anti-military. 

“It is not about the flag. The message here, and what our players are doing, is being mischaracterized,” Goodell said. “These are not people who are unpatriotic, they’re not disloyal, they’re not against our military.” 

“In fact,” he continued, “many of those guys were in the military, and they’re a military family. What they were trying to do was exercise their right to bring attention to something that needs to get fixed. That misrepresentation in who they were and what they were doing was a thing that really gnawed at me.”

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In 2017, President Donald Trump disparaged Kaepernick and his fellow protesting football players, saying, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired.'”

Earlier this year, Trump said that Kaepernick deserves another chance in the NFL if he “has the playing ability.”

Goodell said that he hopes that people better understand the message that the players were trying to convey in 2016 now that police brutality and the killing of unarmed Black citizens have become a near-regular occurrence. 

Since the videotaped slaying of George Floyd on May 25 by now-former Minneapolis Police Department officers Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, the NFL has pledged up to $250 million to social justice causes. 

“It was horrific to see that play out on the screen,” Goodell says of Floyd’s killing. “There was a part of me that said, ‘I hope people realize that’s what the players were protesting.’ And that’s what’s been going on in our communities. You see it now on television, but that’s been going on for a long, long time. And that’s where we should have listened sooner.”

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