NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says he should have "listened earlier" to Colin Kaepernick to understand what the quarterback was trying to bring attention to by kneeling during the national anthem.
Goodell made the comments to former NFL player Emmanuel Acho for his series, "Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man."
Two months ago, Goodell acknowledged in a video that he, and the league, were wrong for not listening to players earlier and would now encourage them to peacefully protest. Notably absent from that video was any mention of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers QB who was the first to kneel during the anthem to call attention to racial injustice issues.
Goodell was asked during his interview with Acho what he would say if he were to publicly apologize to Kaepernick now.
"Well, the first thing I'd say is I wished we had listened earlier to Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to," Goodell replied. The NFL commissioner said they invited Kaepernick "several times" to have a conversation about his protesting, but that dialogue never occurred.
"You know, we would have benefited from that, absolutely," Goodell added.
During their conversation, Goodell also discussed how the players' peaceful protests are being "mischaracterized" by some as a protest against the American flag itself.
"These are not people who are unpatriotic," Goodell said. "They're not disloyal they're not against our military, in fact many of these guys were in the military and they're a military family. What they were trying to do was exercise their right to bring attention to something that needs to get fixed. That misrepresentation of who they were and what they were doing was that thing that really gnawed at me."
As for the death of George Floyd, Goodell said it was "horrific to see it play out on screen."
"There was a part of me that said, 'I hope people realize that's what the players were protesting.' And that's what's been going on in our communities. You see it now on television but that's been going on for a long, long time. And that's where we should have listened sooner. And we should have been in there with them."
During the second part of their conversation, Goodell said he will support players this season if they decide to take a knee in protest during the national anthem. The commissioner added that players have done that previously and none of them were disciplined.
However, some have pointed out certain teams implied there'd be punishments if their players protested during the anthem.