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Trump Questions NFL Commissioner's Reversal On Protests During Anthem

President Trump, shown here on Friday in Bangor, Maine, is questioning the NFL commissioner's stance on player protests.
Patrick Semansky
President Trump, shown here on Friday in Bangor, Maine, is questioning the NFL commissioner's stance on player protests.

President Trump is once again weighing in on a culture war topic he helped elevate: NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last week that the league was "wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier" on issues of race and oppression.

"Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell's rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?" Trump tweeted late Sunday night.

The NFL commissioner released a video message on Friday that offered condolences to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. All three are African American. Floyd and Taylor were killed this year by police, and in the case of Arbery, one of the three white men accused in his killing is a retired law enforcement officer.

"We at the National Football League condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people," Goodell said.

"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. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter."

As NPR reported on Friday, Goodell released his statement after nearly 20 players called on the NFL to take a stronger stance amid the nationwide protest against police brutality against black people.

Goodell's roughly 80-second video statement did not explicitly mention the national anthem protests, which were started by now-former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and gained national attention nearly four years ago.

Kaepernick and others say that kneeling during "The Star-Spangled Banner" is intended to shine a spotlight on injustices against people of color in the United States.

The issue of players kneeling was thrust back into the spotlight following recent comments from Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints' quarterback. In an interview published Wednesday in Yahoo Finance, the NFL's all-time passing yardage leader said he'll "never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America."

Brees apologized in an Instagram post following criticism and later used his social media platform to speak directly to the president.

"Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been," Brees said. "We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities."

In the past, Goodell has agreed with Trump on this issue. In a 2017 memo to all 32 NFL teams, he said, "we believe everyone should stand for the National Anthem. It is an important part of our game."

Throughout his presidency, Trump has accused players who kneel during the anthem of disrespecting the flag and the nation.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.