Roger Goodell: ‘I wish we had listened earlier’ to Colin Kaepernick on NFL protests

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is talking about Colin Kaepernick, kneeling, the national anthem and the American flag again. This time, he’s doing it with a former NFL player. And he’s expressing more regret about the way the league has handled those issues.

Goodell sat with Emmanuel Acho for Acho’s YouTube series “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man.” Part 1 of the talk was posted Sunday night and Part 2 is scheduled to be posted Monday. 

Acho’s early questions were about the movement Kaepernick started in 2016 by sitting, and then kneeling, during the national anthem prior to 49ers games to protest police brutality and racial injustice. Acho asked Goodell what he would say to the free-agent quarterback if Goodell were to apologize for his and the league’s response to the protests.

“Well, the first thing I’d say is that I wish we had listened earlier, Kap, to what you were kneeling about and trying to bring attention to,” Goodell said. He also said Kaepernick was invited several times to “have the conversation” with the league regarding the protests, but “we never did.”

“You know, we would have benefited from that, absolutely,” Goodell added.

The commissioner was more direct as he agreed with Acho that players’ actions are not intended to disrespect the flag or the military.

“It is not about the flag,” Goodell said. “The message here [is] that what our players are doing is being mischaracterized. These are not people who are unpatriotic. They’re not disloyal, They’re not against our military. In fact, many of those guys were in the military, and they’re a military family. What they were trying to do is exercise their right to bring attention to something that needs to get fixed.

“That misrepresentation of who they were and what they were doing was the thing that really gnawed at me.”

Kaepernick said four years ago that his protests were not about the flag or military, but many of his critics didn’t, and still don’t, believe him. They cite the anti-police “pig socks” and the T-shirt of the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro he wore in 2016 as evidence he hates America.

President Donald Trump believes the protests disrespect the flag and military, and he regularly criticizes Kaepernick and other players who kneel. The president has criticized Goodell for his move in the past few months toward the players’ position. Trump will have a national forum this week to rip both men again: The Republican National Convention begins Monday in Charlotte, N.C. 

After what Goodell told Acho in Part 1, is he ready to move all the way to the players’ side? Acho asked, and he teased Part 2 of his video with the question: 

“Will you support players if they were to peacefully protest during the national anthem this season?”

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