NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell

I believe that change within the National Football League  regarding race is long overdue. In the midst of world-wide protests aimed at ending systemic racism, we are hearing words coming from the NFL that sound enlightened and socially on point.

Recently NFL Commissioner, Rodger Goodell stated that the NFL would recognize Juneteenth as a league holiday. In an internal memo, Goodell commented:

“This year, as we work together as a family and in our communities to combat the racial injustices that remain deeply rooted into the fabric of our society, the NFL will observe Juneteenth on Friday, June 19th as a recognized holiday and our league offices will be closed. It is a day to reflect on our past, but more importantly, consider how each one of us can continue to show up and band together to work toward a better future.”

If you are not aware, Juneteenth is a holiday marking the day Union troops arrived in Texas to announce that the slaves were free. This took place in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation declared the end of slavery.

The Juneteenth announcement comes on the heels of Goodell’s statement released after NFL players published an independent video, requesting the NFL speak out and condemn systemic racism. In what some members of the media call a ‘strong statement’, Goodell offers condolences to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others who “have endured police brutality”. Goodell goes on to say the NFL condemns oppression and systemic racism and admits that the NFL was “wrong for not listening” the players who attempted to call attention to brutality and racism in the past.

Goodell’s statement sounds very much like the words NFL players asked to hear in their video:

“On behalf of the National Football League, this is what we, the players, would like to hear you state: ‘We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We, the National Football League, admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting. We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter.”

This makes Goodell’s comments seem more like parroting to pacify than taking a stance.

We need to remember that the NFL did much more than fail to listen to the protests of its players. The meaning of taking a knee during the National Anthem was mangled and misconstrued. The twisting of facts came from President Donald Trump, who famously called the players who knelt in protest “sons-of-bitches” and promoted accusations of players disrespecting the flag, the military, and the nation.

The divisive propaganda fueled strife and led to the NFL banning kneeling during the anthem unless the players were behind closed doors. Players who disregarded this edict would face fines. All of which goes against the NFLPA’s collective bargaining agreement at the time.

I sincerely wish I could believe there were a few scraps of sincerity behind Goodell’s words when he says, “I personally protest with you.” Unfortunately, Goodell follows that statement with what may be the crux of the matter for the NFL. “Without black players, there would be no National Football League.” The statement is painfully obvious. It points to the fact that the NFL is backed into a corner and needs a way to appease those who are rightfully angry.

I will admit that in my enthusiasm for the sport of football and the players, I frequently lose sight of the business end of the NFL. Of all the professional sports leagues, it is the NFL who persistently shows itself to have little regard for its players. Given the league’s history, I think it is fair to ask if this is the NFL mouthing platitudes and tossing cash at organizations aimed at righting deeply rooted wrongs?

The ever-wise Bob Dylan cautioned writers to keep our “eyes wide” and “don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin.” Forgive my veiled cynicism as I try to follow Dylan’s advice. The best I can say is I hope the statements mean times are changing.