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From Home Bunker, Goodell Stumbles Onto Late Truth

BrechtBug via Flickr (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Smilin’ Roger Goodell had the chance to do the right thing, to say what everyone already knew, to finally come clean after four years of obfuscation.

And the NFL commissioner almost pulled it off Friday, with a seemingly eloquent, presumably earnest 90 second address, delivered from his basement and in a blue sweater to boot. 

Staring at the prospect of open revolt from a large bloc of his personnel, as the nation came to grips with its unsavory racial history, Goodell had to cop to what must have been a lot of uncomfortable truths.


Of course, the cynical among us would note that Goodell and the league, who have had four years to face the music, might not have done so if not for the multiple days of protests around the country.

More to the point, the NFL’s hand, some would say, was forced by a video of players, most prominently Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes demanding that the league say something.

But even if, as the axiom goes, a blind squirrel will still find an acorn, you have to give the squirrel credit for the attempt. And so it is with Goodell. 

The commish’s mea culpa included condolences to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, African Americans who have been killed in recent months at the hands of police, as well as a recognition of Ahmaud Arbery, a young Georgia man killed by two white men as he jogged in a neighborhood.

Then Goodell condemned, in the name of the NFL, what he called "racism and the systematic oppression of black people." 

From his bunker, Goodell tellingly admitted that the league had gotten it wrong about not allowing players to voice their concerns about police brutality.

Goodell actually uttered these words: "Without black players, there would be no National Football League and the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff."

Goodell pledged to be part of the "much needed change in this country."

Moving stuff, this. Indeed, the commish wanted us all to believe that his heart was on his sleeve. Too bad, to quote Phil Collins, his sleeve was rolled up. 

You see, for all the words Smilin' Roger said, it was the two that he left out that made his whole chat ring hollow. 

At no point did he say the name Colin Kaepernick. You know, the guy who started all of this by protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem four years ago. 

Goodell’s statement should have included, at a minimum, some sort of recognition that Kaepernick personally was wronged, especially since he acknowledged that the league shouldn’t have tried to squelch player dissent.

If Goodell was attempting to head off any sustained protests this fall when play resumes, then he truly was on a fool’s errand.

There will be plenty of players on bended knees this season. Roger Goodell can make the speech from his basement be more than just words by using his influence to see that one of those players is Colin Kaepernick. 

And that’s how I see it for this week. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games…whenever they return.



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Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.