Roger Goodell says the NFL will support peaceful protests from players

A day after a host of black NFL players released a video message aimed at the NFL, asking the league to respect their right to peacefully protest police brutality, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell responded, sharing a video Friday night expressing his condolences to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and apologizing to NFL players on behalf of the league for discouraging peaceful protests in years past.

Below is Goodell’s full statement:

“It has been a difficult time for 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.”

Thursday’s player-created video features Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Dallas Cowboys running back Zeke Elliott and Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, among others, and mentions the names of several unarmed black citizens who lost their lives in recent years, including Floyd, Taylor, Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and others.

The players then ask the NFL to acknowledge their right to protest peacefully, in addition to acknowledging that black lives matter.

“We will not be silenced. We assert our right to peacefully protest. It shouldn’t take this long to admit.

“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.”

Both the players’ and Goodell’s comments come during a turbulent time in America, with protests and demonstrations taking place nationwide in response to the death of Floyd on May 25, an unarmed black man who died while in police custody.

Hundreds of professional athletes and dozens of NFL players have spoken out regarding Floyd’s death and continuing racial injustices in America, but the major headline from this week was when New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said Wednesday in an interview with Yahoo Finance that players kneeling during the national anthem – a peaceful way of protesting police brutality popularized by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the 2016 NFL season – was “disrespecting the flag.”

Brees’ full response reads as such:

“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country. Let me just tell you what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played, and when I look at the flag of the United States: I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II – one in the Army and one in the Marine Corps, both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place.

“So every time I stand with my hand over my heart, looking at that flag and singing the national anthem, that’s what I think about. And in many cases, it brings me to tears, thinking about all that has been sacrificed … Is everything right with our country right now? No, it’s not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better and we are all part of the solution.”

Brees was met with swift backlash, and on Thursday, prior to the players-created video, he released this statement:

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I would like to apologize to my friends, teammates, the City of New Orleans, the black community, NFL community and anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday. In speaking with some of you, it breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused. In an attempt to talk about respect, unity, and solidarity centered around the American flag and the national anthem, I made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country. They lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy. Instead, those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character. This is where I stand: I stand with the black community in the fight against systemic racial injustice and police brutality and support the creation of real policy change that will make a difference. I condemn the years of oppression that have taken place throughout our black communities and still exists today. I acknowledge that we as Americans, including myself, have not done enough to fight for that equality or to truly understand the struggles and plight of the black community. I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the black community in this movement. I will never know what it’s like to be a black man or raise black children in America but I will work every day to put myself in those shoes and fight for what is right. I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy. I am sick about the way my comments were perceived yesterday, but I take full responsibility and accountability. I recognize that I should do less talking and more listening…and when the black community is talking about their pain, we all need to listen. For that, I am very sorry and I ask your forgiveness.

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After Goodell’s message on Friday, New Orleans Saints superstar wide receiver Michael Thomas congratulated the commissioner:

 

Stay tuned for more updates.