“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 …”
Those were the words from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell June 5 in a video response to NFL players who demanded action from the league in the aftermath of high-profile murders of black people (Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd) and more than a week’s worth of Black Lives Matter protests.
To get right to the point, I’m not exactly certain what the commissioner’s statement means. I mean, I understand the words. He is acknowledging that the league has failed when it comes to dealing with the issues of systemic racism and police brutality toward the black community. And it APPEARS to suggest that they failed in terms of their reactions to the protests from former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other players starting in 2016.
But, of course, he didn’t ACTUALLY say that. And because of that, there are still a number of questions that need to be answered. Most notably, “Does this mean that no team can attempt to prevent a player from protesting during the national anthem or penalize a player who does?” The league has maintained up until now that it was the teams that chose not to sign Kaepernick and was not the responsibility of the league to force him onto a roster. (Although they did settle a lawsuit he filed against them out of court.)
The Ravens would be wise to get out in front of this issue as quickly as possible.
I asked the Ravens June 7 if they had a comment or reaction to Goodell’s video. As of June 8, I have yet to hear back.
Among the statements they’ve made since Floyd’s murder was the announcement of a $1 million donation from owner Steve Bisciotti toward social justice reform. Without question, that’s a meaningful statement. But it comes from the same man who was so troubled by the idea of signing Kaepernick three years ago that he requested Baltimore fans “pray for us” before ultimately declining.
Neither action necessarily outweighs or invalidates the other. But each provides necessary context.
The Ravens need to step up immediately and make it clear that they will support any player who chooses to peacefully protest against racism and police brutality no matter how or when they choose to do so. They should similarly admit that they made mistakes in the aftermath of the 2016 and 2017 protests that they will not repeat.
Systemic racism has continued in part because we have allowed silence to prevail in order to protect privilege. All of us have a responsibility to help to end this fatal cycle.
If a major sponsor tells the team they do not approve of support for protests during the anthem, the team not only shouldn’t acquiesce, they should step up. They should be willing to drop that sponsor (a la what other teams have done with companies that have proven to have misplaced values recently) and out that particular company so that the community is aware of how it aligns itself.
Yes, there will inevitably still be some Ravens fans who purposely choose to ignore the realities of the world and scream and kvetch about “disrespecting the flag” or whatever other nonsensical ideology they’ve decided to attach to the action in order to distract from the actual topic at hand and literally fatal issue. We’ve seen President Donald Trump attempt to bang this drum again in recent days, and of course even future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees again chose to miss the point before being shamed into an attempt at decency days later — and an aggressive rebuke of Trump to boot.
It’s just that teams like the Ravens (and all humans interested in actual societal change) can no longer capitulate to the whims of the willfully ignorant. There is far too much at stake.
And while the NFL has played a more central role in this particular issue throughout the years, the same goes for all other local teams. The Orioles, Blast, Bayhawks and college and high school programs throughout the state of Maryland all need to make it clear that they will in no way stifle the conversation in the name of changing the subject.
Where and when (or if) players choose to protest is their own choice. But for that to be the case, they need to know that the choice will be protected. It’s time for that promise to be stated loudly.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox