Dressed in a blue long-sleeve shirt and seated in the basement of his suburban home outside of New York City, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke in a subdued voice on camera, and admitted that the league had poorly mishandled player activism.
“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 in the video, which was posted June 5.
Goodell’s video statements came on the heels of another viral video, posted a day earlier, which featured prominent Black NFL players, including Super Bowl champion Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, condemning racism and advancing the Black Lives Matter movement.
And while both videos referred to George Floyd, the Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25 — a disturbing incident caught on video where an officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, prompting protests around the world — neither Goodell nor the NFL players made any mention of Colin Kaepernick.
It was Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback, who once starred in Super Bowl XLVII and in 2016 began kneeling during the national anthem. Kaepernick said numerous times then that he was protesting “systematic oppression” and police brutality. His activism sparked other NFL players to follow his lead that season, while President Donald Trump lambasted NFL players kneeling, calling them “sons of bitches,” and joking that owners should fire players that take a knee.
Three and a half years after he last threw a football, Kaepernick, 32, remains a free agent and without a job. Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the Niners in 2017 — a new front office regime coming in said Kaepernick would be released — but the quarterback hasn’t landed with a team since. He reached a confidential settlement last year after he had filed a grievance against the NFL, accusing the league of collusion. Even after Goodell and the league did a 180 turn with the video statement in support of players who want to protest, people in NFL and football circles wonder whether Kaepernick will again wear an NFL jersey.
“And you @nflcommish STILL have @Kaepernick7 blackballed for peacefully protesting,” Nessa Diab, Kaepernick’s girlfriend, tweeted on her official account the same day as Goodell’s video.
Can Kaepernick still compete at an elite level after a three-plus year layoff? Or is that a convenient excuse that teams use because they are reluctant to sign him?
“Any player that has ever come up against that (NFL) shield has lost,” said one retired NFL veteran who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisal by the league. “It’s very sad. It’s horrible the way the league treats former players. Guys that built that brand, and built that game, gave the league something that (it) can sell for a profit.”
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told reporters on a conference call Thursday that he has regrets about not signing Kaepernick in 2017, and the Super Bowl-winning coach added that he had received a call from at least one team who seemed to express interest in Kaepernick. Carroll wouldn’t name the NFL club.
“I regret that we weren’t the one way back when that just did it just to do it, even though I thought that it wasn’t the right fit necessarily for us at the time,” said Carroll. “The reason it wasn’t the right fit is because I held him in such a high regard I didn’t see him as a backup quarterback and I didn’t want to put him in that situation with (Seahawks starting quarterback Russell Wilson).”
Mark Geragos, Kaepernick’s attorney in the collusion grievance, couldn’t be reached, and Jeff Nalley, the quarterback’s agent, didn’t return requests for comment. But another high-profile football agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told NBC News that it would be in the NFL’s best interest to have Kaepernick playing for an NFL team again.
“I think (Kaepernick) should get signed. I think he will get signed. It’s really important for the NFL to give him a chance,” said Rosenhaus, who’s been an agent for over three decades and represented big-name players like Plaxico Burress and Terrell Owens. “That would be great for the league at this juncture. I think it would reflect very well on everything that Kaepernick has stood up for over the last several years. He was really ahead of his time with a lot of the things he was saying. If you play many of his interviews years ago, they’re spot on today.”
In Goodell’s video, he said that he plans to reach out to players and others going forward for a “better and more united NFL family.” A league spokesman said in an email that Goodell regularly talks with current and former players and that Goodell has already “contacted a number of players” since the video posted.
“We consider conversations with players private so I won’t be able to provide names,” the league spokesman said. The NFL announced this past week that it would commit $250 million over a 10-year period for social justice programs and initiatives. Before the 2018 season, the NFL and union reached an agreement that players and personnel who did not wish to stand during the anthem could remain in the locker room. No players have been disciplined for continuing to kneel on the field and that policy will continue when the 2020 season starts.
When asked whether Kaepernick could still compete at an elite level after a lengthy layoff, Rosenhaus said the bigger issue is for an NFL team to give the quarterback another chance.
“Sign him. Bring him to training camp and give him a chance to compete like everybody else. He deserves that,” said Rosenhaus. “If he is not good enough on the football field — we’ll never know unless he gets a chance. He certainly was forced into retirement in his prime. He’s still young enough in my opinion, even with the time off, that he can still be a very solid player in this league. People should rally around him in the NFL, embrace him right now. One of the 32 teams really needs to step up.”
Richard Sherman, the 49ers cornerback, told Bay Area reporters on a video call last week that Kaepernick deserves a job in the NFL but that Sherman doesn’t make those decisions. The people that do are the ones who should provide transparency.
“I can want him to have a job and I can think he deserves a job as much as anybody,” said Sherman. “He showed he could play in this league. I would have to be one of the decision-makers who didn’t give him a job and I’m not that person. I think that until those people are asked those difficult questions, we’ll never get the answers.”
During Floyd’s funeral in Texas last Tuesday, the Rev. Al Sharpton made reference to Goodell’s video before offering a jab at the NFL commissioner. “Don’t apologize, give Colin Kaepernick a job back,” Sharpton said.
“It would be awesome if there was an NFL organization that was willing to give (Kaepernick) a chance,” said Rosenhaus. “I can’t see any reason why someone wouldn’t right now. He was a very good quarterback. There’s a shortage of good players at that position. It would go a long way on a lot of levels, for the NFL to bring him back in the fold and make him an important part of the NFL.”