WASHINGTON — Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League, has said the NFL was wrong not to encourage its players to speak out against the mistreatment of African Americans by police.

Goodell said it in a video released last week that was sent to NFL employees and released to the news media. In it he stated:

“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. 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. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.”

Goodell’s video statement effectively made clear that he had given the issue a lot of thought, coming as it did in the aftermath of nationwide protests, involving thousands of demonstrators in Washington, around the White House and in cities across the country in response to the death of George Floyd, an African American man killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

That officer and three others at the scene were fired from their positions. The first officer was charged with second-degree murder; the others were charged with abetting second-degree murder.

The headline in The Washington Post over the story of Goodell’s statement read: “Risking backlash, Goodell seems to have spoken from the heart.”

The Post reported that Goodall acted “with little input from the owners as he said the league was wrong for not listening to its players earlier and now encourages them to speak out and peacefully protest racial injustice and police mistreatment of African Americans.”

Goodell’s action was praised by many, including New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, who was one of the organizers of a players video. “Well said, Roger,” Thomas tweeted, followed by an emoji with a black fist.

But others were critical of Goodell for not naming Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who demonstrated his protest by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016. He hasn’t played since then.

President Trump, among others, attacked Kaepernick for kneeling, but his protest had nothing to do with the flag or the national anthem. He was protesting police brutality against black Americans.

But Trump never lets an opportunity slip by to falsely distort an issue and its meaning. On Tuesday, he asked whether Goodell was now saying “it would now be OK for the players to KNEEL, or not stand for the national anthem?”

The Saints quarterback Drew Brees knows how to play that game with Trump. On Wednesday of last week, during an interview, Brees stated, “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.”

The next day, Brees offered a public apology for his comments. By Friday, he was addressing his thought to Trump via an Instagram post.

“Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag,” Brees said. “It has never been. We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities.”

But the White House lately is no longer dealing from the bottom of the deck and playing Trump’s false game.

At a Monday news media briefing, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany wouldn’t directly buy into Trump’s ploy on kneeling.

Asked if Trump “still believes NFL players who kneel should be fired,” McEnany said “the president is very much against kneeling, in general.”

Trump’s incendiary handling of the racial protests has hurt him politically, and his foot-dragging in response to the coronavirus pandemic has damaged his presidency even more.

A nationwide CNN poll released Monday showed that he is running 14 percentage points behind Joe Biden. An earlier Quinnipiac University survey found 50 percent of voters saying they would vote for Biden if the election were today, while only 39 percent favored Trump.

Trump is running on his belief that the economy’s comeback will hand him a second term. But Federal Reserve leaders say that millions of jobs may be gone for good, and unemployment will be 9.3 percent by the end of this year.

In a word, Trump’s in trouble.

 

Donald Lambro has been covering Washington politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.

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