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'We were wrong': NFL commissioner regrets stance on player protests, condemns racism

NEW YORK (Reuters) - National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league made mistakes in not listening to players, in a video on Friday denouncing racism in the United States amid widespread protests over police brutality against black people.

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“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,” said Goodell. “We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.”

The NFL has been locked in an ongoing debate with players over kneeling protests during the customary pre-game playing of the national anthem. The practice was popularized by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is black, in 2016 to protest racial injustice and police brutality.

Kaepernick, who in 2013 led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl but lost to the Baltimore Ravens, filed a grievance against the league in 2017, claiming collusion as no teams signed him after he parted ways with the Niners. The NFL and Kaepernick settled in 2019.

“Protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff,” said Goodell. “I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve.”

The NFL sent the video out just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump renewed his call for an end to kneeling protests during the national anthem.

“We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag - NO KNEELING!”

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The statement was a response to quarterback Drew Brees, who apologized this week for equating the kneeling protest with disrespecting the American flag.

On Thursday, several players, including reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, appeared in a video on social media calling for the league to “admit wrong in silencing” players and to support protests.

“How many times do we need to ask you to listen to your players?” Chiefs player Tyrann Mathieu said in the video.

The league also faced criticism earlier this year when just one of five head-coaching vacancies went to a non-white candidate in the most recent hiring cycle, and last month the NFL introduced rules designed to boost racial diversity among coaching staffs.

Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman

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