Although he did not mention his name, it was clear that Goodell was referring to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In 2016, Kaepernick protested police violence against blacks by sitting or kneeling during the national anthem at games.
At the time, Kaepernick explained, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country [the United States] that oppresses black people and people of color.”
After the 2016 season, Kaepernick became a free agent. No NFL team, however, signed Kaepernick even though he had had considerable success in the league. It is widely suspected that teams did not sign him because of his protests.
Many people, including President Trump, were upset with Kaepernick and the protests. They claimed kneeling during the national anthem showed disrespect for the United States flag, the military and the police.
Last week, Drew Brees, star quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, said he didn’t approve of kneeling during the anthem: “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States or our country.”
Brees, however, changed his mind after he spoke with and listened to African Americans. (Brees is white.) He apologized and wrote, “I realize this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been. . . . We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systematic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality and judicial [and] prison reform.”
Goodell and Brees are doing the right thing during these difficult times of violence and demonstrations. It is important for people, young and old, to listen and learn more about the history of slavery and the unequal treatment of people of color in the United States.
It is also important not to dismiss protesters such as Kaepernick. While he made some people angry and uncomfortable, he was trying to get people to pay attention to an important issue: police violence against people of color.
After all, this country was started by protesters against Great Britain, and they were called patriots.
If and when the 2020 NFL season starts, we may see more players and coaches protesting and kneeling on the sidelines.
And, who knows, one of the teams may bring Colin Kaepernick back to the NFL. That would be the right thing, too.