Players have, rather often, taken Goodell’s name in vain. They have faulted owners for the fact that quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned after refusing to stand for the national anthem before games last season to protest the treatment of African Americans in the United States.
But on a day of protests and politics Sunday, one thing became clear: The verbal barrage by President Trump put the NFL players, for once, on the same side of an issue as Goodell and the owners.
“It seems like the message that we’re getting from the White House is they’re trying to create division in this league, whether it’s with the team or within the league or whatever the case may be,” Giants Coach Ben McAdoo said following his team’s loss in Philadelphia. “Doing things on an individual basis may be playing into their hands. So sticking together as a football team, again, [is] going back to the message we practice empathy here. I believe in it.
“I’m not sure how much the president can empathize with our players and the way that they grew up. They grew up a lot different than a lot of people, some tougher than others. I think empathy is the key message here. Choose understanding over judgment.”
The league responded forcefully after Trump said Friday at a campaign rally in Alabama that owners should fire players who participate in protests during the national anthem before games.
Goodell and the NFLPA took issue with Trump’s remarks. Owners issued statements supporting players and, in many cases, calling Trump’s comments divisive. Some owners stood and locked arms with players in pregame shows of unity Sunday during anthems.
“It’s getting to the point right now in America where we can’t ignore what’s going on,” Giants wide receiver Brandon Marshall said in the visitor’s locker room at Lincoln Financial Field. “This is real. … When we talk about oppression, that stuff is real. And on the other end, you’ve got to understand that what we feel is real and you’ve got to validate that. I think that’s what people are looking for is just validation and a conversation. … The conversation has been started.
“What Kaepernick has done, he really started a conversation. He’s galvanized the community to really sit down and really look at themselves and see how we contribute to it and how we can be a solution moving forward. I’m really disappointed in President Trump’s remarks. That just proves: This is the most powerful man in the country and for him to stand up and say that shows what we feel is real. That’s what we’re saying. Exactly how he talks, that’s what we’re talking about.”
It wasn’t all smooth. The NFLPA denied a report that DeMaurice Smith, the union’s executive director, spoke with Goodell on Saturday about how to respond to Trump’s comments. A person familiar with the league’s inner workings told The Washington Post that Goodell and Smith spoke but did not coordinate their responses.
But for the most part, this was the rare occasion when the league and players spoke with practically the same voice.
“I have conversations with guys that ask me how they can help and how they can get involved,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “You see it leaguewide that there was an effort to show support …. I think everybody wanted to make sure we were in solidarity, not only with the players that have sacrificed to be at the forefront of this fight but for our league and for our fans, that we have a great game, product and family environment that brings people together. There is nothing anyone can say or rhetoric that can change that.”
Goodell has spoken to a number of players recently about community activism. Jenkins, Torrey Smith, Michael Bennett and Anquan Boldin reportedly followed up by asking Goodell in a letter for the league to provide official support for their efforts.
“It’s due time for people to use their voices they have,” Jenkins said. “Players stood on their own platforms and have taken the brunt of it this whole year. I think as people continue to push for … division, I think it is important for those in the league, that are teammates, to be able to support those that are really trying to make an impact on communities.”