While Roger Goodell and the NFL owners have been doing their best to be seen in public engaging with protesting players, behind closed doors it’s clear that Goodell and the owners are working hard to silence the players and their efforts at criminal justice reform.
A new report revealed today that, at the recent NFL owners meeting, Texans owner Bob McNair said of the protesting players “we can’t have inmates running the prison.”1 To refer to the players as inmates reveals how the owners really feel about this situation – that Black men belong under the thumb of white owners. McNair’s comments are so offensive, star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins walked out of practice once he heard them.2 Now the whole team is planning to take a unified action against the team’s owner.
McNair’s comments and the league’s silence on them makes it hard to believe that they are acting in good faith in their negotiations with the protesting players. Roger Goodell and the NFL owners need to immediately repudiate McNair for his offensive comments.
Additionally, the same report that revealed McNair’s comments noted that Dallas owner Jerry Jones and Washington owner Daniel Snyder were openly angry with San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York for not punishing Colin Kaepernick when he first kneeled last year. Despite the owners disdain for Kaepernick, he will be sitting across from them at next week’s meeting between the players and owners. If those inside the NFL with power – from owners to leadership – don’t use this as a moment to push for real reforms than they are doing nothing more than enabling and supporting racism and discrimination.
We know that comments like these have a chilling effect on athletes right to protest – and not just in the NFL. Every time we’ve seen Trump, NFL owners, or powerful media figures attack players who protest, we see a wave of parents, coaches, local police, lawmakers, and school administrators lash out at young athletes who protest.4 5Which why it is critical for Roger Goodell and the NFL owners pick a side and choose to loudly condemn these comments.
It is no small thing that so many athletes have spoken out and used their bodies to express the desire to see a long overdue national dialogue on justice, dignity, and accountability in our country. And it is frankly alarming that instead of welcoming that dialogue, NFL owners continue to band together to chill free speech and send a message that speaking out against government sanctioned violence is a career killer. That 70% of NFL players are Black and yet the NFL has no Black people who are a majority owner of a team and no Black CEOs or Presidents, creates a disturbing power imbalance.
Despite that, these athletes continue to put themselves in harm’s way by taking action every game. History continues to teach us that their courage likely comes at risk of financial and professional repercussions, public ostracism, and numerous death threats to them and their loved ones. We’ve said it before and we say it again: when those that have a public platform, use that platform to speak truth to power, we need to have their backs.
Until justice is real,
— Brandi, Rashad, Arisha, Johnny, Evan, Jade, Chad, Corina, the rest of the Color Of Change team.
1. “Gaffes, TV ratings concerns dominated as NFL, players forged anthem peace,” ESPN, 27 October 2017. http://act.colorofchange.org/
2. “DeAndre Hopkins leaves Texans facility, other players upset over Bob McNair’s comments,” Yahoo Sports, 27 October 2018. https://act.colorofchange.org/
3. “Colin Kaepernick Reportedly Agrees to Attend Meeting of NFL Players, Owners,” Bleacher Report, 26 October 2017. http://act.colorofchange.org/
4. “Campus anthem battle: It’s cheerleaders vs. a sheriff and a powerful lawmaker,” Yahoo Sports, 25 October 2017. https://act.colorofchange.org/
5. “High School Football Players Say Opposing Fans, Referee Call Them N-Word for Kneeling During Anthem,” The Root, 5 October 2017. https://act.colorofchange.org/
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