On June 5, in the wake of pressure from many of the league’s top stars, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a video in which he acknowledged the league he presides over was “wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.” In addition, Goodell said the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and, in general, it was a step forward for a league that has been rightfully criticized on social issues in the recent past.
However, Goodell’s statement notably omitted any reference to Colin Kaepernick, creating additional questions about how the league would discuss the former 49ers quarterback who has not been signed by a team since the 2016 season after his peaceful protests against police brutality. During ESPN’s “The Return of Sports” special on Monday evening, Goodell reportedly spoke on Kaepernick and, to some degree, expressed support for NFL teams to sign the 32-year-old.
“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 told ESPN’s Mike Greenberg. “But I welcome that, support a club making that decision, and encourage them to do that.”
From there, Goodell continued by inviting Kaepernick to have a part in and around the league, even if not on the field.
“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 said. “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… But I hope we’re at a point now where everybody’s committed to making long-term, sustainable change.”
Kaepernick’s lengthy layoff could provide challenges for any return to the league, as the tenor of the argument from those that are against signing him has shifted from “he’s a distraction to “he’s not good enough” to “he’s been out of the league too long.” Should he want to pursue that avenue in 2020, he is still young enough to profile as a valuable player at the NFL’s most important position, and has always had the talent to make the merit-based arguments of his exclusion from the league look a bit ridiculous.
It will be exceptionally interesting to see what kind of weight these comments have from Goodell in terms of practical application. At the very least, though, they represent a significant change from the past and Goodell’s sentiment is noteworthy as a result.