It seems the NFL’s understanding of the oppression African Americans face is changing overnight.
In the wake of the senseless killing of George Floyd at the kneeling knee of a white police officer, there has been an awakening inside the most influential sports league of the racism and hatred that has caused so many deaths of African Americans, especially at the hands of white police officers.
It’s an about-face for a league that has threatened and punished its African-American players for peacefully protesting against the social injustice that they and others face on a daily basis.
But there is no clear indication of the future of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been blackballed since 2017, because he dared protest police brutality by taking a knee.
Texans coach/general manager Bill O’Brien recently made his strongest statement yet against the institutional racism that African Americans still face.
“We have to stand with the Black community, we have to heed the call to action and challenge each other to live out the change that we want,” O’Brien said. “I’m sad, I’m frustrated because I’m questioning, `what can I do?’ I’ve got to do more, I’ve got to talk to our players.”
The loudest statement that seemed to capture the nation’s attention came later in the week from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who released a video via Instagram where he admitted that he and the league were wrong in fighting against player protests. Goodell promised that in the future peaceful protests by players would not be frowned upon.
“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,” Goodell said.
But the direct apology to Kaepernick, who took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013, came way short. Goodell never mentioned Kaepernick in his minute and half apology, but it seemed that he might be reaching out to the quarterback who not been able to get a job in the NFL ince he kneeled during the playing of the national anthem.
Goodell said he would be “reaching out” to players who have “raised their voices.”
What hasn’t been said is whether that means Kaepernick, who received a major endorsement deal with Nike and also reached an out-of-court settlement with NFL owners, will now be invited to any of the 32 teams’ training camps this summer. Goodell seems to agree with some NFL coaches like Seattle’s Pete Carroll and current 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.
“I think people understand it so much more now than they did three years ago and I’m all for protests. I’m all for change,” said Shanahan, who came aboard as the 49ers coach after Kaepernick left the team. “What’s different now and then, it’s embarrassing to say, probably, but I think white people are more passionate about it now than then… Whatever’s got to get changed, let’s do it.”
But we haven’t heard a word from any of the 32 NFL owners who ultimately will have to pull the trigger on allowing their franchise to sign Kaepernick. Until that happens it will be hard for many to separate the talk of change from the indifference the NFL has shown in the past.
Follow Terrance Harris on Twitter @terranceharris.