NFL’s hypocritical PR response to George Floyd killing

Amid the national outcry over the killing of George Floyd, the National Football League’s powerful public relations machine has quickly kicked into action, joining the call for an end to police brutality and systemic racism.

As a lifelong fan, I offer this plea to the millions of others who have long loved the game: Don’t fall for the league’s shameless display of hypocrisy. We’ve seen this act before.

The league’s words, including a belated acknowledgement by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that “we were wrong” for not listening earlier to players protesting police brutality, must be followed by real, meaningful action that puts its money and power where its mouth is.

For years, the league ignored and covered up the concussion crisis that destroyed countless players’ lives. When the extent of the crisis finally became widely known, the NFL pivoted to present itself as committed to player safety. And the strategy largely succeeded, as fans were either too quick to forgive its sins, or just didn’t care.

Now the NFL appears to be playing the same game with police brutality years after ostracizing and blackballing players like Colin Kaepernick for their peaceful act of kneeling during the national anthem. Goodell’s modest apology came only after widespread mocking of statements that he and owners put out following the death of George Floyd that ignored the league’s past refusal to speak out and support players like Kaepernick.

When the San Francisco 49ers quarterback started kneeling, league owners, far from being champions of racial justice, plotted behind closed doors how to shape the narrative around the players’ protests and protect their precious ratings and profits, while dodging their role in addressing an epidemic that has so devastated a community that has given so much to this game (three-quarters of NFL players are African-American).

The League of Denial on the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy became the League of Cowardice on police brutality, cowering to that portion of its fan base that said players should “shut up and play.”

With rage unleashed across the nation after Floyd’s death, the owners and teams quickly launched a storm of tweets vowing to be part of the solution. But if they are sincere, they must do more than offer empty words. Here are some suggestions:

• Make a significant and ongoing financial commitment to organizations committed to fighting this epidemic and publicly demand reform of policing standards.

• Launch a media campaign to educate the public and its fans on the reality of systemic racism and police brutality.

• Vow to end all contributions by owners to politicians who do not support and work toward police reform, including Donald Trump.

• Publicly reject the notion that players kneeling during the national anthem are disrespecting the flag or the U.S. military; instead, they are calling for America to live up to the ideals represented by the flag.

• Dedicate the 2020 season to the memory of George Floyd and all members of the African American community who have died through the unjust use of police force.

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