Offering his first public comments since Colin Kaepernick began his national anthem protest, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stressed that he supports the right to protest, even in a league in which patriotism plays such a visible role, but that he disagrees personally with Kaepernick.
Goodell, who has maintained a low profile this offseason, was asked Wednesday about the decision by the San Francisco 49ers quarterback to remain seated during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to raise awareness of racial injustice in the United States.
“I support our players when they want to see change in society, and we don’t live in a perfect society,” he told the Associated Press on Wednesday. “We live in an imperfect society. On the other hand, we believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL. I personally believe very strongly in that.”
Since his protest sparked a national debate, Kaepernick has seen fans burn his jersey — and then watched as it became the best-seller in the NFL’s online shop. Kaepernick, who says he intends to continue his protest, will get his chance Monday night when the 49ers open the season.
“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed,” Kaepernick told reporters Sunday. “To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change, and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
With the first week of the NFL season looming, it is not yet clear whether Kaepernick’s message will resonate with others players. His teammate, Eric Reid, has promised to, as has Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks. Goodell said the league encourages players to be respectful, even as they speak out about changing society.
“I think it’s important to have respect for our country, for our flag, for the people who make our country better; for law enforcement, and for our military who are out fighting for our freedoms and our ideals,” Goodell said.
“These are all important things for us, and that moment is a very important moment. So, I don’t necessarily agree with what he is doing. We encourage our players to be respectful in that time and I like to think of it as a moment where we can unite as a country. And that’s what we need more, and that’s what I think football does — it unites our country. So I would like to see us focusing on our similarities and trying to bring people together.”
Kaepernick’s protest has devoured news cycles in the week leading up to Week 1 of the new season — and it’s not easy to overshadow the nation’s most popular sport.
“Players have a platform, and it’s his right to do that. We encourage them to be respectful and it’s important for them to do that,” Goodell said.
“I think it’s important if they see things they want to change in society, and clearly we have things that can get better in society, and we should get better. But we have to choose respectful ways of doing that so that we can achieve the outcomes we ultimately want and do it with the values and ideals that make our country great.”