Kaepernick, 32, hasn’t played in the NFL since the 2016 season. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback was the first pro athlete to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality in the United States.
"Well, listen, if he wants to resume his career in the NFL, then obviously it's gonna take a team to make that decision," Goodell said during an interview on ESPN's "The Return of Sports" special. "But I welcome that, support a club making that decision, and encourage them to do that.”
Kaepernick went unsigned after opting out of his contract with the 49ers in early 2017. He filed a collusion grievance against the NFL that fall, accusing the 32 team owners of conspiring to keep him off the field due to his role in the protests. The two sides reached a settlement in February 2019.
The dispute between Kaepernick and the NFL reignited last fall, when the league organized a private workout for Kaepernick and invited all 32 teams to attend. Kaepernick pulled out of the workout hours before it was set to begin. His representatives said the workout was canceled because the NFL refused to allow the media to attend and asked Kaepernick to sign an “unusual” liability waiver.
Kaepernick has maintained that he wants to continue his NFL career in the future. Since he last played in the NFL, Kaepernick has retained a prominent role with Nike as a brand ambassador.
"If his efforts are not on the field but continuing to work in this space, we welcome him to that table and to help us, guide us, help us make better decisions about the kinds of things that need to be done in the communities,” Goodell added. “We have invited him in before, and we want to make sure that everybody's welcome at that table, and trying to help us deal with some very complex, difficult issues, that have been around for a long time.”
Goodell’s remarks came as the NFL recommits to social justice causes in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody. The league pledged $250 million to combat systemic racism over the next 10 years.
Goodell personally recorded an apology video to NFL players earlier this month, acknowledging the league was wrong to not listen sooner about racial injustice. In the video, he encouraged players to “peacefully protest” but did not mention Kaepernick or the kneeling protests.