With high-ranking N.F.L. executives thinking this way about players standing up for justice, no wonder Kaepernick and Reid are viewed throughout the league as untouchable pariahs.
After the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked weeks of turbulent national protest, the league was finally shamed into changing its tune on issues of race. Goodell came forward, after being called out by players, to say what he had previously avoided: “Black Lives Matter.” He apologized for not doing so before and vowed that the N.F.L. would change.
In the wake of the protests and civic unrest of 2020, the league continues to make a big deal of its supposed commitment to supporting women, L.G.B.T.Q. people and particularly African Americans. This year, the N.F.L. kept up the practice of painting feel-good phrases like “End Racism” in end zones and of allowing players to wear approved slogans like “Black Lives Matter” on the back of helmets.
The hypocrisy is clear and shows itself most clearly on matters of race.
Black players make up close to 70 percent of N.F.L. rosters, including most of the league’s biggest stars. Yet there are only five Black general managers of teams. There are no Black team owners with majority shares.
And only three out of 32 head coaches are Black, despite eight head coach vacancies in the last hiring period.
Art Shell, the first Black head coach in the league’s modern era, was hired in 1989, notably by the Raiders. In 32 years, real change has been scant.
Powerful men, particularly powerful white men, have by far the most sway in professional football. How they act, whom they anoint and hire, what they say, and in this case the casual jokes and demeaning put-downs underscore the lie of the league’s public-facing displays. These are the men who make the day-to-day decisions in football. And those emails are where the N.F.L.’s real culture was exhibited.
That’s the reality, no matter how Goodell and the league’s owners spin it.
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