The NFL is sorry.
Truly, it’s sorry.
As Roger Goodell, the league’s longtime commissioner, explained in a video released Friday, “we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”
He is, again, sorry.
And now that a solid, oh, 76% of Americans polled say they agree that “racial and ethnic discrimination is a big problem in the United States,” and a majority say they support the Black Lives Matter movement, and now that hundreds of thousands of citizens have taken to the streets to protest police brutality against African-Americans, and now that even Grandma and Grandpa seem suddenly woke, the NFL wants you to know how very sorry it is.
But here’s the thing: Too bad.
Really. Too friggin’ bad.
And too friggin’ late.
The NFL isn’t sorry because it realizes it was wrong. It isn’t sorry because police brutality (gasp!) is suddenly a thing. No, it’s sorry because — four years after former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick first dared quietly take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem — Donald Trump’s approval ratings are dropping and suddenly, for lots of white people, it’s no longer acceptable to banish players for the crime of peacefully protesting societal wrongs.
Not anymore. Not after Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Certainly not after George Floyd and the chemical agents of Lafayette Square and the presidential biblical stroll to Washington’s St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Once upon a time, the NFL’s 32 team owners could stand side by side and argue (with a somewhat straight face) that their refusal to defend players who protest wasn’t about race, class, decency or justice. “We love and support our gladiators,” the explanation essentially went. “But there are limits …”
Ah, the limits. It was about patriotism. The NFL stood for one thing, and that was the ol’ red, white and blue. Football was America and America was football, and to be a part of the world’s biggest league was to honor the United States of America. You either stood, hand over heart, or you had no place on the gridiron. These colors don’t run, and this league didn’t run.
Except, well, the league did run — from serving as anything more than a shallow puddle in which to sell Budweisers and Chevy trucks and Big Macs while standing tall as a phony patriot president’s lapdog.
Don’t think so? Try to argue with the numbers.
Although nearly 70% of the NFL’s players are African American, a paltry three head coaches are black —and this offseason, none of the five vacancies were filled by black men. It’s a shameful track record, where leading African American coordinators are routinely bypassed for top positions (See: Bieniemy, Eric), then — behind the scenes — greeted with the same tired excuses once applied to black college quarterbacks who were shifted to other positions on the NFL field. He lacks the experience. He lacks the understanding. He needs more time. He’s just not smart enough.
(He’s too black.)
Somehow, over the past few days, Goodell was hit with the harsh reality that the United States of America since Floyd’s death is not quite the place it was when Kaepernick was banished to the bottom of the Marshall’s clearance shelf. He woke up and saw a nation of people — black and white and brown and yellow — genuinely heartbroken and furious over the inability of the nation to make necessary societal shifts.
He had to say something, because an investment needed protection.
Alas, it was too late.
The NFL can apologize and apologize and apologize some more, but until it actually starts hiring large numbers of African American coaches and executives and until it acknowledges that Colin Kaepernick was deliberately blackballed and until it stands up to the bully in the White House the next time he goes on one of his racially charged Twitter rants, we can only see the league for what it is.