Among the questions was this one: “Is it OK for NFL players to kneel during the national anthem to protest police killings of African Americans?”
According to Yahoo Sports, 52 percent of respondents said it was, compared with 36 percent who said it was not (while 12 percent weren’t sure). That represents a shift from as recently as August 2018, when an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found 54 percent of respondents said it is inappropriate for pro football players to protest racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem, while 43 percent said it was appropriate.
A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll taken in October 2016 found that 53 percent said it was “never appropriate” to take a knee during the anthem, with 42 percent saying it was sometimes appropriate to do so.
The issue of NFL players protesting racial injustice and police brutality burst onto the national stage in 2016 amid a presidential race as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick inspired other NFL players to stage demonstrations during pregame renditions of the anthem.
In October 2016, the Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 54 percent of American adults disapproved of the protests, while just 38 percent approved.
After President Trump sharply criticized the protests in 2017, encouraging NFL team owners to get any “son of a bitch off the field” who takes a knee during the anthem, the league saw huge numbers of players and even some coaches and owners stage demonstrations before games. That number sharply dwindled by the 2019 season, but the societal issues Kaepernick and others sought to bring to Americans’ attention have been at the forefront of the national conversation since the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer.
Corporations have been under increased pressure not only to take strong stands against racism but to promise positive action, and the NFL said Thursday it was pledging $250 million over 10 years to “combat systemic racism and support the battle against the ongoing and historic injustices faced by African Americans.”
Last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell declared his league was “wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”
“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said. “… We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter."
One potential outcome of Thursday’s poll results is that they might help convince an NFL team that the national climate has changed enough that signing Kaepernick, who has made it clear he still wants to play, could be good for business or at least not spark a major backlash from fans.
In a glimmer of hope for the 32-year-old quarterback, Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll said an NFL team called him Thursday to ask about Kaepernick. Carroll, whose team was the only one that showed even a semblance of interest in Kaepernick in 2017 and 2018, had called the latter “a symbol of courage” last week while asserting “we owe a tremendous amount to him” for his activism.
“I regret that didn’t happen in some fashion,” Carroll said Thursday of not signing Kaepernick.
“I wish we would have contributed to it because, again, he deserved to play,” added the coach, whose team re-signed Geno Smith last month to be the primary backup to quarterback Russell Wilson. “… When you look back, I felt like we missed the opportunity.”
“He is the most vocal owner in the league,” ESPN’s Dianna Russini said after speaking with the coach. “And not only is he the most vocal leader, there are numerous owners that listen to him. He mentors them. What Jerry does, they do. And until he makes that move, the dominoes can’t start falling.”