When it comes to players expressing concern about issues of social justice and racial equality, the NFL finally is listening. The next question becomes when or if the league will be doing more than that.
In addition to Wednesday’s excellent statement in the aftermath of the news that Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, Commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly has reached out to certain players who have been vocal about social issues — from Bennett to Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins to the Browns players who kneeled during the anthem at a preseason game. So where will it go from here?
More public statements of support for players who raise these concerns would be helpful, along with an effort to acknowledge and support the conscious, deliberate decision of players to use the only sliver of a three-hour football production to focus on these concerns. Many fans can’t and won’t reconcile kneeling or sitting during the national anthem with legitimate efforts to promote important issues of social equality. Perhaps the league should try to find a way to allow players to make their concerns known apart from the brief period when they can stand out by not standing.
It also would be helpful if the league would help Colin Kaepernick find a job. Though some are still willing to die on the “football reasons only” hill, it’s now beyond obvious that Kaepernick would have a job but for last year’s protests. Instead of the Commissioner of the sport trying to clumsily hide behind the notion that he’s not an expert in the sport, he should be (or, more accurately, he should have been) making calls and asking questions and challenging teams to do the right thing by adding a player who will help the team win games without regarding to the perceived “distractions” arising from his activism.
Before the Ravens opted to engage in a slow-motion public debate regarding whether to sign Kaepernick, Goodell repeatedly insisted that teams make player acquisitions for football reasons only. After Goodell personally witnessed Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti make it abundantly clear that football reasons aren’t the only reasons for Kaepernick’s unemployment, Goodell subtly shifted the talking points.
Now, the talking points should become action items. Goodell should be urging teams to consider Kaepernick without regard to the protests and to embrace the message that adding him to a roster would send, ignoring the potential backlash and shrugging at the tired notion of “distractions,” which often is code for not signing a guy the coach or someone else in the organization doesn’t want.
Until the league office makes it clear that it wants — that it expects — teams to not hold player activism against them, the league’s words on the issue will ring hollow.