NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the league will support players who stage protests during games this season.
“We’re going to stand behind our players,” Goodell said on CNBC. “We respect our players and they have done a great job of bringing attention to these issues. Our focus now is, ‘How do we support them in making the changes?’”
Goodell’s remarks come a week after the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer postponed games due to player boycotts over the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, by police.
It also comes a little more than a week before the NFL is scheduled to begin its season with a Thursday night rematch of February’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers.
Earlier this season, Goodell apologized for the NFL’s reaction to protests in 2016 led by then-San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during the pre-game playing of the national anthem. Kaepernick and others said the action was to protest what he considered “police brutality” against Blacks and “systemic racism.” Goodell said it was “wrong” for not listening “earlier” to the players.
Fan reaction was intense, with 32% saying they were less likely to watch the NFL because of the demonstrations, which led to an 8% drop in television ratings.
Following the death of a Black man in police custody in Minneapolis, and subsequent riots and protests, the NFL announced it would play the “Black national anthem” – “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” before “The Star-Spangled Banner” during all games in the first week of the season.
CNBC did not say if Goodell addressed any potential negative fan reaction to its latest policy announcements. MLS players were jeered when they knelt before a game in Texas between FC Dallas and Nashville FC in August.
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