On May 25, George Floyd was murdered by police officers holding a knee to his neck. This sparked outrage in the country, causing protests from coast to coast. These demands for justice were not only voiced by protestors — NFL players joined the chorus, with the assistance of the league’s own digital media creatives who went rogue due to the lack of support towards Black issues by the league’s leadership.
— Saquon Barkley (@saquon) June 5, 2020
“We assert our right to peacefully protest,” players such as Ezekiel Elliott, Odell Beckham Jr., Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, said. They did not mince words. They called for the NFL to “condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” and “admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting.” I’ve always felt that commissioner Roger Goodell was sympathetic to this issue, but could not say publicly because his bosses — the team owners — were not. He had no choice.
We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter. #InspireChange pic.twitter.com/ENWQP8A0sv
— NFL (@NFL) June 5, 2020
“We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” Goodell said through gritted teeth. His video looked less like a man standing up for justice and more like a hostage video made at the behest of his captors. “We, the NFL, believe Black lives matter.”
I don’t believe that. Not for one second.
I believe that Goodell believes that Black lives do matter, as his legacy is complicated and it’s known that he wants to be more vocal. I think that his staff believes it, as evidenced by the fact that the social media leaders were willing to risk their employment to push this message from the players. I am confident that many of the players think that kneeling is an effective way to raise awareness of the fact that this country still treats black Americans like second class citizens. (Except for Drew Brees despite his apology tour as he’s proven to be to the issues that his ‘Black’ fans deal with.) But do I believe that the owners in the NFL, the most powerful men in the league, support the movement for Black lives? No, I do not.
I don’t have much to say here that is new. The numbers speak for themselves; the history of Black men, women, boys and girls that have been murdered speaks for itself. I could talk about Emmitt Till or Laura and LD Nelson, or, contemporaneously, Terrance Crutcher and Breonna Taylor — American history is littered with the dead bodies of Black and brown people.
The NFL’s players are over 70% Black, but currently, only three teams have a Black head coach. There are no Black owners in the league. And Blacks make up only 16% of general managers. Let’s call it what it is: this is a culture of racial inequity that creates a glass ceiling for Black people. And if you happen to rise above that ceiling and get a head coaching job, you better win a Super Bowl quick because they will not give you many chances to figure out the job.
This is why Goodell’s statement rings hollow. Until they fix their internal issues with the devaluing of Black lives, I will not believe what they have to say about what is happening in the culture. Yet, if he wanted to follow his convictions, he could get it right. He makes 40 million a year $ — he is quite comfortable. He could say what he wants to say, and if the owners fire him, so be it.
Now is the time for Goodell to say what he feels because the NFL needs more than a statement. They need a culture change.
Lawrence Ware is a philosopher of race at his day job and a curator of dopeness when time allows. Words in The New York Times, Slate Magazine, The Root and others. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the kind of Steelers fan that enjoys watching the Cowboys lose.