Roger Goodell's Statement on NFL Protests Carefully Avoids the Point: Oppression of Black People and Police Brutality

roger goodell
Commissioner of the National Football League Roger Goodell looks on prior to a game between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Philadelphia Eagles at StubHub Center on October 1 in Carson, California. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell proved Tuesday that he either doesn't understand or won't acknowledge the true cause of the national anthem protests that have drawn President Donald Trump's anger.

Goodell circulated a letter around the league saying he wanted players to stand during the pre-game national anthem, in effect ending the protests that were first started by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. But something was conspicuously absent from the note sent to all 32 NFL teams—any mention of what the protests are actually about. The commissioner does his best to avoid discussion of police brutality and the oppression of black people in America, instead insisting players are addressing vague "issues."

"I am very proud of our players and owners who have done the hard work over the past year to listen, understand and attempt to address the underlying issues within their community," Goodell wrote in the second paragraph of the letter (emphasis added).

"We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues," he wrote. "The controversy over the anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players."

The letter from Goodell only hints at the larger problem as the protests have garnered more national attention amid Trump's many broadsides. The demonstrations have been cast as a referendum on patriotism, the military, the flag, the anthem, the president or countless other things that were never the point. But, to steal Goodell's phrase, the real issue is, and always has been, the oppression of black people in America.

San Francisco 49er Eric Reid has been taking a knee since just about the time former teammate Kaepernick began the demonstration last year. He has been very clear about what the protests mean.

"I have the utmost respect for the military, for the anthem, for the flag. So I will say that every time ya'll interview me," Reid told reporters after his game this weekend, which Vice President Mike Pence walked out of, claiming he was offended by the protesters. "This is about systemic oppression that has been rampant in this country for decades on top of decades. And I will continue to say and encourage people to educate themselves of how we got to where are today, because it didn't happen overnight."

That's what Kaepernick began kneeling for and what the protests have been about ever since—even if the president inspired more folks to take a stand by calling anyone who kneeled a "son of a bitch."

"I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change," Kaepernick said when he was first asked about his protest.

But it appears owners, the vast majority of whom are white men, have grown tired of the protests. The Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones said he would bench any player who didn't stand for the anthem, and ESPN wrote "many NFL owners have grown concerned about the appearance of unpatriotic acts." The league power brokers are now considering a rule mandating that players stand during the anthem, exactly as Trump demanded in one of his many tweets slamming the NFL.

But even if the kneeling is forced to go, the issues remain. Just don't Roger Goodell what they are.