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Roger Goodell’s statement was nice, but it would be better to hear from NFL owners

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (left) with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.Matt Dunham

It truly was nice to hear Roger Goodell say in a video statement Friday evening that he and the NFL "admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”

Of course, it would have been better had the commissioner mentioned Colin Kaepernick by name. And if he had made specifically clear that the NFL supports the players’ right to peacefully protest during the national anthem. But it’s good to hear Goodell at least admit that the league failed in its handling of the players’ peaceful protests in 2017.


Yet I can’t help but think back to a quote from Bengals owner Mike Brown in 2017. Earlier that year, the NFL released a statement that condemned a proposed Texas “bathroom bill” and threatened to withhold future Super Bowls and other big events from Texas if it passed. Brown was not happy with the league’s statement.

“Is it their place to speak for me?” Brown said, via Deadspin. “I’m part of the NFL. I’m not saying that. I didn’t authorize that.”

The past two weeks, it has been encouraging to see coaches, executives, and players participating in community protests across the country. And it’s great to hear Goodell say, “I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country.”

But Goodell is not the boss at 345 Park Avenue. He’s a $40 million-per-year front man for the 32 team owners, who really call the shots.

They are the ones who need to speak up and let their players and fans know where they stand on the issue. A report from the Washington Post over the weekend stated that most owners were “taken by surprise” by Goodell’s statement.

It’s doubtful that Goodell went completely rogue. Before releasing a statement of that gravity, it is likely that he consulted his inner circle of owners (including Robert Kraft, Art Rooney, John Mara, and Arthur Blank).


Robert Kraft and Arthur Blank are two of the more powerful owners in the NFL.The Boston Globe

But as Brown stated three years ago, Goodell doesn’t always speak for everyone at the table.

The NFL has no national anthem policy, leaving it up to the teams. So the team owners are the ones we need to hear from, unequivocally.

Do they, like Goodell, believe the NFL was "wrong" in how it handled the protests and verbal war with President Trump and a certain faction of fans? Will they support the players this time when Trump attacks them on Twitter, as he has twice already?

Don’t forget, it was only two years ago that the NFL owners, without any input from the players, tried to impose a policy requiring players on the sideline to stand for the anthem. Teams also would be fined “if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.” And “the Commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.” This policy was enacted in May 2018 and abandoned that August amid intense blowback from players and the public.

The player protests are almost certainly coming back this fall.

“We're all getting ready to take a knee together going into this season, without a doubt," Redskins running back Adrian Peterson recently told the Houston Chronicle. “We've got to put the effort in as a group collectively. Are they going to try to punish us all? If not, playing football is going to help us save lives and change things, then that's what it needs to be.”


Goodell put out his statement Friday, but his opinion is not the one we should be most concerned with.

Will Cowboys owner Jerry Jones be OK with players taking a knee? Before a game in 2017, he tried to co-opt the protest by forcing his players to take a knee in unison before the anthem, then stand with arms locked during the anthem. No Cowboys player took a knee for the rest of the season.

What about the Patriots? Owner Robert Kraft, who put out a forceful statement last week condemning racism, also donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration in 2017, and considers him a friend. Bill Belichick wrote a letter to Trump that the president read on the eve of the 2016 election, and has not said a word over the last two weeks as the country has been gripped by turmoil. Will either one have the stomach to take on Trump this fall?

Would Robert Kraft ever turn away from Donald Trump?Chip Somodevilla

It would be good to hear from the other owners who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural: the Jets’ Woody Johnson, the Jaguars’ Shad Khan, the Rams’ Stan Kroenke, the Redskins’ Dan Snyder, and Jones. Khan, originally from Pakistan, wrote a lengthy piece last week denouncing racism and injustice. He also said last October that he is still a “big fan” of Trump’s economic policies.


It also would be nice to hear from Texans owner Cal McNair, whose late father, Bob McNair, essentially told NFL players in 2017 to knock it off in regards to kneeling. “You fellas need to ask your compadres, fellas, stop that other business, let’s go out and do something that really produces positive results, and we’ll help you,” McNair said in a New York Times account of the meeting at league headquarters.

It would be nice to hear from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, whose RISE initiative seeks to “eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations.” Ross also held a fund-raiser for Trump in the Hamptons last year.

“You can’t have a nonprofit with this mission statement, then open your doors to Trump,” receiver Kenny Stills said last August while still employed by the Dolphins.

It also would be nice to hear from the Browns in Cincinnati, and the Glazers in Tampa, and other billionaire owners. Will their teams tolerate peaceful protests during the anthem?

Goodell can’t make that declaration. Only the 32 owners can.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.