The National Football League has been front-and-center when it comes to the national discourse over the past four years, though not for the reasons that most might think. Starting in 2016 when former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began to kneel during pregame anthems, the NFL has become a battlefield for political rivals and punditry. In the center of the storm that focuses on social justice and the role that it might play in entertainment is none other than NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Roger Goodell has been overseeing the NFL since he was chosen to succeed Paul Tagliabue in 2006. Despite the various controversies that Goodell experienced during his tenure, none will define his legacy more than Colin Kaepernick and the anthem protests. Roger Goodell finally took the opportunity to speak candidly and openly during an interview with former NFL star Emmanuel Acho.
When Roger Goodell announced that he was sitting down with Emmanuel Acho to address Colin Kaepernick and the various controversies surrounding the anthem protests, including direct spats with President Donald Trump, Goodell was expected to come out with more PR-speak — a tactic that the commissioner has been adhering to during the numerous public and legal battles the league has been embroiled in. Instead, Goodell sat down with Acho in order to declare to the world that he wished he had “listened earlier” to Colin Kaepernick’s message as well as his methods.
Despite the controversies surrounding kneeling during the National Anthem, Roger Goodell would go on to revisit the conversation while also revisiting the overall stance that the NFL has regarding player protests. Goodell pointed to a meeting that he had tried to line up with Colin Kaepernick during the early days of the NFL’s anthem protests, citing how disappointed he was that they never were able to consummate the meeting. Goodell would go on to say, “We would have benefited from that, absolutely.”
After Roger Goodell’s initial handling of the anthem protests left fans and players unsatisfied, a markedly different approach was taken in the wake of the 2020 NFL Regular Season, something that may be put off due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In early June of 2020, Goodell would film and release a video citing how wrong the league had been for “silencing our players for peacefully protesting” both social injustice and police brutality. The admission by Goodell would send the sports world reeling as this was never something any player had reasonably expected to hear. The video would go on to star superstar NFL players like Patrick Mahomes among others as they spoke on the George Floyd shooting and the corresponding protests. Goodell would tell Acho regarding the video, “I’m a big believer in dialogue..”
As Roger Goodell and Emmanuel Acho got deeper into their conversations, Goodell began to point to his past as an example of what has changed his present stances. Goodell discussed how his father had swapped stances on the Vietnam War while serving as a member of the United States Senate. Goodell cited the Vietnam War example as an occasion when the “communities” chose to speak up about a serious injustice, not unlike the current climate surrounding the National Anthem controversies.
While Roger Goodell would admit to not sitting down with Colin Kaepernick, the NFL commissioner did reveal that he had long conversations with several prominent activists within NFL locker rooms around the league. Goodell cited names like Kenny Stills, Malcolm Jenkins, Anquan Boldin, and Eric Reid as players he met and had fruitful conversations with. Goodell said of their decisions to kneel during the anthem, “Some of them sacrificed a great deal.”
Even as Roger Goodell continues to embrace his perspective turn on the NFL’s social justice mandates, fans and followers of the league can’t help but wonder if it is a little too late. Kaepernick has not played a down of professional football since 2017 with teams allegedly unwilling to sign him over his protests. Kaep remains unsigned to this day.