Sports

NFL's Goodell: 'We're going to stand behind our players' against any backlash over protests

Key Points
  • "We're going to stand behind our players," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told CNBC on Wednesday.
  • Although the NFL has been criticized for its handling of players' concerns in the past, Goodell said, "Our focus now is, 'How do we support them in making the changes?'" 
  • The NFL season is scheduled to begin next week against the backdrop of both the coronavirus pandemic and renewed racial justice protests across the U.S. 
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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told CNBC on Wednesday that the football league will support players who protest racial injustice in the U.S. during the upcoming season. 

"We're going to stand behind our players," Goodell said on "Squawk Alley." He added, "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 appearance came a little more than a week before the start of the NFL season. The Houston Texans and defending champion Kansas City Chiefs are scheduled to kick off Sept. 10, a Thursday, before a full Sunday slate of games. 

In addition to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the NFL season is set to begin against the backdrop of renewed demonstrations against racial injustice in the U.S., following the Aug. 23 police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, by a White officer of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man.

The NFL has been criticized in recent years for its handling of players' concerns after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick protested police brutality and systemic racism by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016. 

Last year, Kaepernick settled a grievance with the NFL, in which he alleged teams colluded to keep him from playing due to his protests. Some people, including President Donald Trump, have been fiercely critical of Kaepernick, who has not played in the NFL since the 2016 season. He led the 49ers to the 2013 Super Bowl.

From left, San Francisco 49ers Eli Harold (58), quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) kneel during the national anthem before their NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Nhat V. Meyer | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

As protests swept the country earlier this summer after the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a Black man, by a White officer kneeling on his neck, Goodell admitted the NFL was "wrong" for not listening "earlier" to player protests.

More recently, continuing his law-and-order reelection message, Trump blamed "domestic terror" for unrest in Kenosha. In Tuesday's visit to the city, the president, without mentioning Blake, called violent demonstrations "anti-American." He also has suggested the previous peaceful demonstrations by NFL players were disrespecting America

In response to Blake's shooting, players on the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks set off a wave of player protests last week across professional sports when they decided to sit out their first-round playoff game. Multiple NFL teams followed suit by canceling practice.

The NBA struck an agreement with the league's players union to address social inequalities. It includes plans to turn some arenas into polling places for the November election. It also establishes a coalition of players, coaches and owners that will work to advance reforms in criminal justice and policing.

On Tuesday, Goodell said the NFL plans to "redouble our efforts to be catalysts for the urgent and sustainable change that our society and communities so desperately need." Earlier this summer, the league said it was committing $250 million over the next decade for social justice causes. 

Goodell told CNBC on Wednesday the NFL and its players association have held discussions over the last few months about additional action they can collectively take. "I expect that we'll have some announcements further on that level also, of more steps that we're going to take, because we all have to do more," he said.

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