Op-Ed: Is the about-face by Roger Goodell and the NFL believable?

After nearly four years since Colin Kaepernick took his first knee, and several more high-profiled deaths of unarmed Black Americans by White police officers, the National Football League––in a roundabout way––has finally admitted their wrongdoings.

They’ve finally admitted they were wrong for not listening to their players regarding peaceful protests on racial injustice and the killing of unarmed Black Americans.

In a response to the recent nationwide events surrounding the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement via Twitter on behalf of himself and the NFL. While much of the statement sounded like an impassioned PR move, Goodell said several things that caught my attention.

“We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” said Goodell. “We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter. I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country.”

At that moment, my jaw dropped, and I paused the video.

I couldn’t believe what I just heard. However, what Goodell said next was even more shocking.

“Without Black players, there would be no National Football League. And the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of Black players, coaches, fans and staff. We are listening. I am listening, and I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve and go forward for a better and more united NFL family.”

Upon hearing this, I paused the video again.

And then I laughed.

I wasn’t laughing at the content of what Goodell said. It’s no laughing matter at all. As a 33-year-old African American male who has been the victim of racial profiling by the police, what he said is very serious to me.

Taking that into consideration, I can still laugh at––or take issue with–– who it is coming from. Especially when the sentiments do not sound sincere.

It’s great for Goodell and the NFL to make a statement and admit their wrongdoings. The question for me is, what took so long?

Why weren’t the deaths Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Mike Brown, or Philando Castile enough to allow players to peacefully protest to begin with? How about the deaths of Stephon Clark, Terence Crutcher or Botham Jean?

What was it about the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd that compelled them to finally admit they dropped the ball?

My first thought was it couldn’t have been the filming of Ahmaud Arbery’s death. That’s how we even know the vast majority of these deaths exist in the past decade. My next thought, was it couldn’t have been the police walking into Breonna Taylor’s residence and killing her. That’s because we’ve read about that before with the murder of Botham Jean and the murder of Aiyana Jones. Might I add, the murder of Jones is one that’s omitted from these conversations.

Then I thought that maybe it’s the way we all saw how George Floyd died; a knee pressed upon his neck until he could no longer breathe.

Having your “foot on someone’s neck” is a symbolic expression. It symbolizes having power over someone who is vulnerable. Quite frankly, it’s the way most minorities (Blacks, Hispanic and Latino Americans) describe their feelings about majority (White Americans).

George Floyd was vulnerable.

And his murderer (yes, murderer) was a White police officer; who brought to life the aforementioned symbolic expression. Derek Chauvin killed Floyd by having his foot (or knee in this case) on Floyd’s neck while arresting him.

For approximately eight minutes, Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck as he gasped for air until he could no longer breathe; crying out for his mother––who died two years ago–– in his final breath.

If THIS is what it took for the NFL to realize their wrongdoings, and not the countless deaths of unarmed Black Americans before Floyd’s, then shame on them.

Goodell is right when he says there would be no NFL without Black players. After all, Black players make up 75% of the league. Knowing this, there are two things that rub me the wrong way with the NFL’s response. First, why ignore the biggest demographic in your league when they’re responsible for its billion-dollar revenue (and your salary)?

Second, there is the issue with Goodell’s closing statement. When he said that the nationwide protests “are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of Black players, coaches, fans and staff”, it felt phony.

This isn’t new to him.

While this issue is the centerpiece of the recent nationwide protests, this describes what the has NFL done (and is doing) to their Black players, coaches, and staff.

Take a moment and think about the “inequality and oppression” aspect.

They come into play when you take a look at the NFL’s hiring history of Black head coaches. The league has over 75% Black players, and less than 10% of the head coaches are Black.

And If you’re looking for a hardcore number, it’s three.

Three Black head coaches out of 32 teams. Those coaches are Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers), Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers), and Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins).

Then there is the “silencing” aspect of Goodell’s closing.

To gain perspective on that, take a look at the collusion case (and settlement) involving Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, and the NFL. It’s the main reason why the NFL has to apologize to begin with.

It will be interesting to see what the NFL will do next. They’ve made their statement. The have owned up to the error of their ways. And there is an argument they’ve begun to “put their money where their mouth is”. There is proof of that by taking a look at their Inspire Change initiative. In order for their efforts to be believable though, they have work to do. And the work begins inside. They can continue to release statements and throw money at causes. It looks great for PR and the image of the league. The problem is that until they begin to treat their own Black players, coaches, and staff better, how can we believe their efforts?

You be the judge.

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