NFL: Actions speak louder than words

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In response to a video NFL players sent directly to the league about racial inequality and three basic statements the league ought to declare, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answered. Goodell, on behalf of the league, condemned racism and the systematic oppression of Black people, admitted wrong in not listening to players sooner and affirmed that Black lives matter.

His statement came three years after the league he commissions allegedly blackballed former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick following Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem amid the 2016 season. The statement came two years after enacting a since-frozen policy that financially penalized teams if a player were to kneel during the anthem.

Goodell’s statement also came after revered New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said he could “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country” and then apologized for his insensitivity and ignorance. Brees also posted a statement directed at President Donald Trump, explaining that systemic racism and the oppression of the Black community are the issues at hand, not the flag.

Whether or not Goodell and Brees are simply responding with words to the public backlash they have received, I believe the words should still be welcomed, but conditionally. They will need to be followed with tangible actions.

Just as it has not been enough for businesses and localities to spew words condemning racism, police brutality and the death of George Floyd, it will not be enough for the NFL, especially considering its history of being actively complicit in maintaining “tradition” that hinders movement toward racial justice, or even discussion of it.

The first step the NFL should take is a direct apology to Kaepernick. Admitting wrong for not listening to players sooner is not enough. Kaepernick became a leader for doing what’s right at the expense of his career, and the league must directly acknowledge that.

The NFL must also address the ripple effects associated with its treatment of Kaepernick. The organization is worth more than $91 billion and has more than 16 million viewers. The NFL’s platform is undeniably large, and the league ought to recognize the message it sent not only to players but also to the rest of the country by silencing Kaepernick rather than amplifying his voice. I believe it’s especially important to affirm to the NFL’s youth fanbase that highlighting social issues and working to change them is critical and, dare I say, patriotic.

The league is 97% white-owned. At the very least, the management of the 32 teams should be more diverse. Organizations need the people with power to better reflect the general composition of their groups, their voices and their concerns.

The league ought to address its problematic and offensive team names and mascots. And change them.

The NFL must revisit its very origins and how it engaged in discriminatory practices early on. The league and each of the owners need to better understand the long-standing ramifications of the actions made by their predecessors in order to better resolve them.

Lastly, the NFL ought to make it explicit that one’s right to protest is that individual’s right and no one else’s. Goodell, Trump, Brees, team owners and countless NFL fans have felt like they must weigh in on this national debate. Some have even had authority in determining whether or not players can or should kneel and have proposed consequences as outlandish as leaving the country. But protesting is a constitutional right — it’s baffling that folks could seek to silence people protesting for equality, of all things.

Goodell says the NFL is joining the fight against the oppression of Black Americans. It’s late, yes, but it’s better late than never — that is, assuming the NFL is not just all talk. After all, actions speak far louder than words.

Surina Khurana is a sports columnist. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @surina_k.