NFL encourages players to 'peacefully protest,' says 'we were wrong' not to listen sooner

Commissioner Roger Goodell admits fault after pushback from star players.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday that the league was wrong to oppose peaceful player protests in recent years, one day after several top stars released a video calling on executives to admit fault.

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“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said in a video posted on the league’s social media accounts. “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. We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter.”

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Several of the NFL's most well-known black players, including Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, had demanded that the league acknowledge mistakes following George Floyd's death in police custody last week. Goodell's video closely resembled the statements players asked the league to make.

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Goodell did not specifically reference former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who have knelt during the national anthem before games to protest racial injustice and police brutality in recent years. The kneeling protests ignited a fierce debate, with critics arguing they were disrespectful to the flag and the military.

President Trump emerged as a prominent critic of anthem protests, at one point calling on NFL owners to fire any player who knelt.

“I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country," Goodell added. "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.”

Cities across the country have held protests against police brutality in recent days. Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, was caught on video kneeling on Floyd's neck for several minutes until he became unresponsive. Chauvin was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

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Countless NFL players and sports stars have called for an end to racial injustice in the days since Floyd's death.

The debate over national anthem protests was renewed this week after New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said he disagreed with the practice of kneeling because it was disrespectful to the American flag. Brees issued multiple apologies after several athletes, including many of his own teammates, were critical of his remarks.

Trump addressed the situation on Twitter earlier Friday, arguing that Brees was wrong to apologize.

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This story has been updated.